Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy visiting from time to time. I will have fun posting information related to current projects, my travels, or just random thoughts! Feel free to post your comments anytime.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Traveling with Paints

I travel over 100 days a year. In most cases I have oil paint, a small wood palette, and a few brushes packed in my carry-on bag. It would be easier in some ways to check the bag, but I prefer to take it with me. Last weekend when having my bags checked for a return flight, I was informed for the first time in months that I could not carry my small tubes of oil paint on board. In today's climate of airport security you hate to cause a fuss, but I knew that I could take them with me under current regulations. After mentioning the TSA rules for artists paint to the head screener, she reminded me that she was in charge and said "It sounds like to me that you think you are an expert on our policies..." I replied "No mam... just on the section related to artists paints." Eventually, after checking the paint with further screening, she let it through. By the way, make sure it will fit in a quart size zip lock bag!

Thanks to my friend Katy, here are the particulars:

The US Dept. of Transportation defines "flammable liquids" as those having flash points of 140 degrees F/61 degrees C or below. Artists oil paints are based on vegetable type oils. They are not hazardous for air travel. While many products that are used to clean brushes may not be taken on a plane such as turp or mineral spirits, small oil tube colors with a flash point above 140 degrees F (most are at about 440 degrees F)  are not dangerous for air travel. 

Check the website of your particular brand of paint you are carrying to see if they provide a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) data sheet.  Print that and take it with you. I would even encourage you to put it with your paints if you check your bags. Highlight relevant material for the screener. Hopefully you will not arrive at your destination with no paint and one of those slips of paper saying hazardous material was removed from your bag!

To confirm this, you may call the TSA at 1-866-289-9673.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sargent Lecture at the Portrait Society Conference

I'm looking forward to speaking at the Portrait Society of America's conference in Philadelphia next month. It will be a great event with approximately 800 artists from around the world in attendance. On Friday evening, one of my duties will be to present a program on the life, work, and technique of John Singer Sargent. My favorite artist to study, I recently ran across this interesting piece of information in a tiny "conversation piece" written by a personal friend of the artist, Martin Birnbaum nearly 70 years ago. In speaking about Sargent's personal assistant, Birnbaum said:

 "Niccola would often prime an old canvas with white paint mixed with raw umber, on which blues especially were silvery and brillant, but this pigment has an unfortunate tendency to eat through, if the paiting had not dried thoroughly, and then the picture is almost past repair." 

Anyone who has read James Montgomery Flagg's "Roses and Buckshot" know of a particular case where this could be the trouble. Pay close attention to the portrait of William Merritt Chase at the Metropolitan Museum each time you visit. You just may see something appear and then disappear!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shaking off the Dust

I had a nice comment posted from Adrienne the other day. She specifically mentioned: "Would love to hear your comments about how you stay motivated. What do you do when you feel stale? Or do you ever?"

I do get "stale." Tired might be more accurate. I spend a lot of time in the studio each day hard at work at my easel and managing the many other areas related to the business of being an artist. I have found several things that help if I can't get my mind in the creative spirit. 

The most important approach for me personally... getting up early! Sound too simple? I started getting up at 5 am several years ago. It changed my life. Seriously, getting up early has made a huge difference. I often get more done before 8 am than I do in the next few hours of the day. The phone does not ring, the kids are asleep, and if you had at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep the night before, you are good to go.

I read as much as I can, too. Spending time with my art books, pouring over photo reproductions and reading about other artists, their work, and their lives can really get you in the mood to get back to work.

One other "secret." If getting started is the trouble... I start to work on whatever I am having difficulty with.  RIGHT AWAY! I just make a mark! Once I stop thinking about why I can't do whatever it is and just try, I begin to solve problems. Slowly, but surely I become inspired! And if getting back to a piece is the trouble... I make a mark! I have often found that so much of painting is problem solving. If I will just take the plunge, I find myself hard at work to make things right.

I have more thoughts on shaking off the dust, but I will save those for another day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

10 Secrets Every Father Should Know
By Dr. Meg Meeker

I just finished a wonderful book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" by Dr. Meg Meeker and I recommend it to any dad with girls. As a father of daughters, it is one of the best books I have read on parenting. Dr. Meeker shares indisputable evidence that a father is THE most important influence a girl has in her life. Her outlook on life, the decisions she makes, her faith, and even her view of herself is incredibly influenced by her dad. 

She closes the book with this statement: "One day when she is grown, something between the two of you will shift. If you have done your job well, she will choose another good man to love her, fight for her, and be intimately connected to her. But he will never replace you in her heart, because you were there first. And that's the ultimate reward for being a good dad." 

Make sure if your daughter is at home or comes home soon... invite her into the studio... hang out and just be together. It's a small interruption and an important one.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Easy Cleanup

I forget who showed me this quick and easy cleanup idea, but I love it! 

Do you ever tire of digging out the goop from the bottom of your turp can? Line it with a plastic ziplock bag instead. When it is time to throw away the buildup, simply remove the bag, zip it up, and throw it away! 

Works great!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Always a Student

I'm just finishing the first day of a weekend workshop. We have a wonderful class full of eager students from around the country ready and willing to try new things and grow as artists. I am always energized by the excitement and interest in the eyes of the students. They want to learn and develop their craft. They want more. 

This should always be true of any artist no matter what stage of their career. The problems that face the new artist are similar to the problems that face the experienced one. You are still questioning values, proportion, mood, color choices, composition, etc. Hard work, time devoted to your craft and dedication to growth will make a difference. But any artist worth his salt should remain humble. Because there is a simple truth... the longer you paint, the more you realize how little you really know. 

As the folks in the mutual fund business are fond of saying "past performance does not guarantee future results". The great artist is one who appreciates every opportunity to approach a blank canvas, humbled by the work of the master artists of the past and proceeds with caution... ego in check and brush in hand. Past performance will increase your chance for success, but it is never a guarantee. 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Great New Book "I'd Rather be in the Studio!"

Michael Shane Neal and Alyson Stanfield 
at the Portrait Society Conference in 
Philadelphia, PA

I just read a wonderful new book for artists entitled I'd Rather Be in the Studio, The Artist's No-Excuse Guide to Self Promotion (www.idratherbeinthestudio.com) by Alyson Stanfield (www.ArtBizCoach.com). It is terrific! One of the best books I've read on helping artists to better organize their careers and it is full of excellent tips and strategies for marketing your work. A quick read I devoured it on a plane flight and extended layover in the Atlanta airport. In fact, i created this blog as a result of Allyson's strong belief in the importance of "blogging" by artists. It is a must reference for any artist working today.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"The truth is more important than the facts."

- Frank Lloyd Wright

Something I keep coming back to again and again is how important it is to balance the pursuit of "feeling" with the technical discipline necessary to create a work of art. Too much of one usually lacks discipline, too much of the other usually lacks feeling and becomes mechanical.

One of the most interesting developments in creating a portrait can occur when you check a measurement. Finding you are "incorrect," you make the change. Suddenly you realize something strange... your incorrect measurement felt better than the correct one! How can that be?! Can't you just simply "copy" nature and get exactly what you are looking for?

One of Mr. Kinstler's teachers John C. Johansen cautioned his students to not simply copy nature, but to "make nature what you feel it should be." He believed your interpretation could feel more like the illusion than simply copying what you see. 

While technical skill is very important to the artist, intuitiveness and feeling is as well. Whether it is a landscape, still life, figure, or portrait we should try to recognize the essential characteristics of our subjects, analyzing the mood, motion, and feeling to determine what we want to say. 

After all, it is the duty of the artist to interpret what they see. If you really believe Sargent simply chronicled... as he once suggested... then look again!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

de Laszlo

I have long been a dedicated fan of the work of Philip de Laszlo.  If you don't have Brush with Grandeur on your shelves in your studio, you've got to pick one up today!  A terrific painter and friend of mine, Steve Moppart, recently introduced me to a spetacular website just created by the de Laszlo Foundation.  One of my favorite pages on the website includes a short black and white film of the great artist painting on location in Venice.   Wouldn't it be incredible if we had a film clip like this on Mr. Sargent!  Check it out!