Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. So you caught that title, right? It's Hard To See Where You Are Going When Your Vision Is Blurred. Did you already guess we are having a discussion about vision today?
Let's start at the beginning. The weather guys were a bit ominous on the morning news today. Here in central Iowa we have been given the heads up. TheBlizzard. A foot or so, and wind-wind-wind. The BigWhite. For those of us who like to run 3 or 4 times a week and can not abide running on the detested treadmill, it was quite obvious that Monday AM was one of few chances in the near future. I headed east up Russell Street. Ni-cccce. The street is clear AND dry. Perfect. As the elementary school comes into view, there are less trees. Not as much to slow the wind. My tear ducts go on full alert. Yikes. That wind is biting way more thank I had planned. By the time I reached the school corner, I had a full scale tear duct onslaught happening. My vision was definitely blurred, but I already had my route planned so I was okay. Hey, and by the time I finally headed back west, the wind blew me home. That was nice, too :)
Lucky you. This discussion requires two anecdotes to get us to the point. Bear with me, please. Last week at our bible study group, one guy was absent. Home with a bad back. His wife, tongue-in-cheek, related he needs to be more specific when he asks God for something. He'd asked for a couple of days off....
Now for the advise du jour. We need to patch those two stories together. From paragraph #1, pull out the word VISION. From paragraph #2, pull up SPECIFIC. And what do ya' get? Vision with specifics.
We are just now clearing month number one of 2011. 99% of all new year's resolutions have been ignored into oblivion. What's an artist to do? My FASO friend Marian Fortunati is one of those 1% people---you should go read her blog about that--note that she also goes back and reviews her goals at the end of the year to aid in determining the following year's plan. But for the 99% group, what CAN we do?
We know we have to have goals. Every artist-mentor tells us that. Without direction or vision, we will run aimlessly and never meet our artistic goals. And if the only vision we have is a blurry one--yikes! I think we need to get more specific. (you may need to revert back to paragraph #2 here) Quit with the grandiose plans that are so general, no one can tell if you get there or not.
You may already know that I try to exhibit at several summer art fairs each year. There is a loosely organized rating system for art fairs--I have another artist friend who gives them A,B,C,D and UTTERFAILURE categories. We end up at seeing each other at art fairs often because we both like the B category. We commiserate when we accidentally end up at a C level show ("I thought it was supposed to be better than this!") and seriously-at-all-costs avoid D level and it's followup. But that A category...famous artists sometimes exhibit at those, you know. I would love to get one of those on my schedule.
So there. I've said it. It's out in the open. A specific goal/direction/vision. And we've already juried for a lot of the A list shows this year, and I've gotten a whole bunch of no-votes. But there are still some coming. And I am painting like crazy to bump that level of work up just a notch or two more. Stay tuned. And I'll try to keep my schedule page updated as well!
Isn't there an old phrase about "nothing like getting right to the point"? Yeah, vision with specifics, I am a fan.
I am still thinking about newsletters, of the studio sort. I just published and sent my latest this week. Did you get your copy? (If not I plan to add a link over there at the left menu, under the "link to recent audio newsletter, plus others" heading, but you need to be patient) Oh wait, we could do it like this as well: click on the colored link.
That, however, is not the subject du jour. Rather we are talking "Newsletters.Avoiding the premature click-off". Wh-aaaaat, you say? Oh come on, surely, you've done it yourself. Found someone's email newsletter in your inbox. Opened it. Started reading. Yawned. Clicked off. PREMATURELY. Not even reading the whole thing. It was too dry. Too dull. Too boring. Take your pick, you just couldn't bring yourself to finish it. Now should enter the thought in you head, oh horrors, what if people do that to my newsletter? What if they click-off prematurely on MY newsletter? Aaach! All that time and effort wasted, not to mention the insult, eh?
But wait a minute, revisit that last sentence: "all that time and effort". How much is your all? DO you invest time and effort into your newsletter? Aren't we supposed to be creatives, and if so, shouldn't our newsletters reflect that?
I remember reading in the book "Conversations In Paint" a suggestion by the author, for artists still trying to find/know/understand their personal painting style. The author suggested the artists look at multitudes of varieties of paintings by other artists. Keep track of what attracted them. Search deeper into those specific attractions, because in those specifics would probably be the roots of the painting style the artist would find as a fit. Seems pretty logical, doesn't it?
I decided the same tactic could apply to newsletters. Visit artists websites. Sign up for their newsletters. Keep a list. Which ones do you give the premature click-off? Which ones do you read clear through? Better yet, which ones do you look forward to with anticipation? What attracts you and makes you want to read more? What makes you yawn and go away? These should be road signs for your own newsletter!
What do I expect from an artist's newsletter?
1. It's from an artist, therefore it should be creative. "I have this painting at this show this month. You should go see it"....does not work for me.
2. It should have beautiful art, presented in an appealing way. You should sign up for Diane Leonard's newsletter, what a perfect example. (click on the colored "example")
3. It should be fun, something that makes you wish it didn't have to end. Go look at Karin Jurick's music videos, 15,062 viewers can't be wrong. This is fun. (click on the colored "this")
4. I think a newsletter should have "all that time and effort" involved, or at least the appearance of. (our personal technical abilities probably factor in here!) If you slap something out, just to say you sent your newsletter, then what is it really worth? And what does it say to your friends and collectors?
As artists, we get lots of advice about how important it is to send out newsletters, to stay in touch with the people who appreciate our paintings. I would encourage you to remember that it's a study in futility if what you send is a yawn-er, if you are giving your readers the nudge toward that premature click-off. Food for thought, eh?
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. And yup, it's winter here. Lots of time on our hands for long trains of thought. Let me illustrate, in text format:
I went to see my doctor recently. I had a muscle knot, the perennial kind. It comes, it goes, it comes again. Happily, right now, is a gone time. But that's not the point of this writing, just the lead in. My doctor gave my ouch a name, it's called my trapezius muscle.
Funny, how I've had a couple of 'em all my life, made it through all the science classes of my required education, have read countless "anatomy for artists" books, studied the very same muscles on lots of people in life drawing sessions, have drawn them just as many times...but it took the personal touch (the ouch, and the doctor naming it) before I could reliably say its name.
I have long-held writers of "anatomy for artists" books in a special category. It's my "you annoy me" category. Why does anyone title a book like that and then fill it up the way they do? Don't they understand that the average artist reads those books, LOOKS AT THE PICTURES, hopefully remembering the shape and location of them, says that awful unrelated name that some genius (?) gave it, and then promptly forgets it? Surely there must be a better way.
And I don't mean to indicate that I think the personal touch, the ouch factor, is a good way to learn "anatomy for artists". But the personal touch, ah, yes. In other arenas of interest the personal touch can be a gold mine. Infinitely valuable. Do you see where this is going? You didn't miss the second half of my title for this text, did you? "Go write that newsletter" It's the personal touch, you know. And while some people don't like to write a newsletter, they are not nearly as painful as a knotted up trapezius muscle.
How do you expect your patrons to remember your name, if they don't get the personal touch? We like to know our patrons, but it's only fair that we allow them to know us as well. It's called communication, the personal touch. Whether it be an anatomy part called a trapezius muscle, or a painting with Cooper signed in red :) the personal touch helps someone remember. And isn't that our goal?
So. let's revert back to the title up at the top of all this: "It's Winter So What Are You Gonna Do. Go Write That Newsletter" Alright, already, I am. It is going to be one of those cool things set up as a video, complete with music. And the theme, you ask? Ha, winter rebellion in full force: the newsletter will be all about SUMMER. Summer music, a bit of news about summer scheduling, paintings about summer, paintings that make you wish for summer, paintings that make you feel like summer. Have I mentioned I really enjoy summer? So tell your friends and family to click on that little link at the left "CooperStudio Newsletter Signup" and get signed up. Everybody can get a copy. I'll send a link to your email and you can view it at your leisure. Or when you get hit with a blizzard and you need a little breath of summer-ish. It'll be fun. And summer-y. I promise.
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. We are talking about painting today, (of course), but more specifically, painting from photos.
It's not a new subject, is it? But I thought possibly you would like to hear about painting from photos, from the viewpoint of an artist who paints sidewalk people.
So we've already agreed painting from photo references is nothing new, right? I know artists who resolutely paint only "plein aire" that point back to French Impressionists habits as "pure painting". Then someone looks sideways at one of those famous paintings and discovers a clue that it was actually painted in the studio. And then somebody makes the discovery that an even more ancient artist was working with the equivalent of an overhead projector.
So, agreed, it's all been done before, but does that make it any easier or better? That brings us back to THE LIST. Right? 3 reasons to not like painting from photos:
1. Where are the details?
2. How can I paint that hand if you don't give me any more details?
3. I know that dog had details, where are they?
Oh, yeah. That's really a redundant list of one. One big gripe. One loud whine. My personal pet peeve regarding painting from photos. So why on earth do I paint from photos? I feel another list coming on....
1. I paint people from everyday life, people out there on the sidewalk. With the power of the camera, I can stop them in their tracks. Preserve their presence for a future painting.
2. The camera helps me synthesize my vision. I find what interests me out in the world, record it in pixels. If I get home and wonder what on earth was I thinking, I have a delete button at the ready.
3. Cut and paste. People out on the sidewalks of our lives are such good storytellers. But sometimes they are on the wrong stage. With the power of the camera, I can move them to a great venue, where their story can be told full force.
By now, I suppose you realize the importance of the second half of this post's title, correct? Or, Does This Dog Match His Owner? Refer to list #2, item #2, synthesizing my vision. I found a pet/petparent combo on an Omaha (Nebraska) sidewalk last summer. I realized instantly their need to be painted, with the camera, I preserve their image for future painting, (list #2, item #1)
Now we need to revert to list #1, and you may take your pick of 1-3, because it's always about the details, or lack thereof, right? Any way, there weren't enough, so enter list #2, item #3 and the resulting concern of "does this dog match his owner"? Surely you realize that there is a strange phenomena of people choosing pets that (ahem) look like themselves? And if there are just not enough details in the original photo and I have to go "find" a different doggie photo with detail, and use that instead, do I mess with the great order of life in pet/pet parent semblance? Ha.
Okay. Here it is. The painting that illustrates all the good and bad vibes of painting from photos. I firmly believe way more good than bad :) so take a look:
Childish Dog. Likes Balloons. Acrylic painting on canvas, measuring a perfect 24 x 24 inches. (click here for portfolio zoom) Oh yeah, and they weren't really at the farmer's market either, chalk up another detail to artistic vision...
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. Today, we are talking about Christmas presents, sort of.
At a November art event where I exhibited my work, a husband & wife stopped by and talked in length, about paintings, and expecially about some charcoal sketches that I had matted for exhibit. Long story short, the wife came sneaking back a little later, with the "I want to buy that one for my husband's Christmas present". Yay! What fun! I love secrets! So we worked it out and the drawing now has a happy new home.
The husband wrote me an email recently, wanting to talk more about the drawing. I love when that happens too---because I know he loves the drawing.
And he asked a question I love as well. Maybe I should mention first, that when I did the drawing, I focused in on the model's hands. Nine times out of ten, the hands are the most expressive part of any human, right? And to get the composition of the hands just right on the page, sometimes you have to let other parts of the model go, right? In this case, the model lost out on the top of her forehead. Oh well. It just didn't seem important to the compostition, and I'm the one calling the shots :) So, his question: did I crop the drawing because there was an "oopsie" up there, or was it planned?
Here, I hedge. If the paper had been larger would I have changed the composition to include all of the model? Do I draw the model as large as I see it, or do I draw the model large enough to fill the paper?
Contemplation of all that leads me to write my belief that the important part is to determine the focus of the drawing, place it well on the page, and let the rest fall into place. It's all part of the process of editing what's in your vision field, right? Does a landscape artist make sure every tree he draws is completely on the page? And may I say the composition really doesn't care if what you're drawing is a tree or a human!
So did we muddle throught that well enough? Ha! A muddled discussion on focus, what a concept. But possibly it will all become crystal clear if I show you the drawing, eh? Here goes:
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. Please bear in mind that it's winter in Jefferson this morning. For all you fair-weather readers, that means that at 9:27AM it was a snow-crunchy 14 degrees. So why, you ask, are we talking about sweating it?
I believe I've mentioned in the past that I try to run (sort of) at least three times a week. Is it my personality type? --who knows, but I can not handle even the thought of running (sort of) indoors. Treadmill, forget it. I prefer to go first thing in the morning when I'm not totally awake. With a sleep-fog hanging on, running seems a little less crazy. BUT! Even I have to draw the line somewhere, and at 6:30AM Jefferson was in the balmy single digits range on the sad old thermometer.
So 9:30AM rolls around, the thermometer shows me 14 degrees, and I determined I could possibly survive it. I did. But here's the funny thing--sweating it! Yup, who'd of thought at 14 degrees with two tee shirts and a hoodie as the layers, I could possibly warm up that much?
Now I suppose you want to hear how this could all possibly relate to painting, right? But of course it does. Think about the commonalities here. It seems pretty logical to me. Look:
1. A schedule. Three times a week, works okay for my "running (ha) career" but I try to paint five days a week. And a schedule is worthless if you don't keep it. Paint on a schedule.
2. Persistence. My husband says mine comes more under the heading of stubbornness. Sometimes the odds seem to be against you. The air temperature for running is abysmal/you painted your best painting ever and it still got juried out, so why keep trying? And here we should enter in my favorite Wayne Gretzky quote, "you miss every shot you don't take". Paint with persistence.
3. Prepare to the best of your ability. So, the morning run part of that: is it a two tee-shirt kind of day or a three? Pretty simple preparedness there. But the painting side of the equation is harder. Study, study, study. Either way, some times you have to sweat it. Last night was the first night of this semester's life drawing group on campus at ISU (Iowa State University) Do you get to see the results of my sweating it? No. If the garbage guys unroll the wad of paper, they might get to. But revert back to item #2. We meet again next Thursday and I'll be there. Surely it will go better. You can't prosper your art just by wanting it. Prepare for it. Study.
And that brings us to:
4. Be an optimist. You can do it. It's possible. Where there's life there's hope, right? If you can move your feet, you can run. If you can pick up a paint brush, you can paint. True, the quality of your endeavors will depend pretty heavily on how you deal with #1-3, but what's stopping you? Be an optimist.
Oh wait, this is beginning to sound like my last blog post, regarding "cup half full". Hmm, it must be the weather...time to go gain a little sweat equity at the easel. Thanks for stopping by.
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa, where I have been thinking about the phrase "cup half full". I've always linked it with optimism. I like optimistic. The state of being optimistic. And those around me to be a little bit that way as well.
I've been working on a painting, and it's gained a title: Park Bench Siesta. Post-title-ing, it occurred to me that someone who came across that title on a google search would start thinking "aah, a social statement on the life of the homeless".
Nope. Not this one.
I recently had a fellow artist ask why I didn't paint more "commercial". Now, granted, he was struggling with English not being his usual language, so I'll give him some leeway. But since that conversation, I've been thinking about what I paint, and even more to the point, what I look for to paint. And isn't that the beginning of the definition of artistic vision? I look for happy. For people being happy. I am a fixer--if someone's not happy, then what can I do to help them get that way? (Ha! Brings to mind the phone call from Cooper-the-younger about his car last night--certain he would not make it past this latest little bump in his road. Sorry. Off track, but you get the point, right?)
And what is with the world's mindset that for a painting to bear any consideration at all, it has to be a social statement of despair, something ugly, or just downright unpleasant. Don't other people want to feel good? Maybe I'm the only one out on that limb? Wanting it always to be a half full cup?
Let me tell you about the painting: I found my park bench siesta people relaxing on a bench in the little garden/park on the north side of the ArtInstitute building in Chicago. Because it's fair (!) for artists to assume, I assumed they had just been in to see the Matisse exhibit that was on display. Can you see the woman's smile as slightly mysterious? That's because (I am going way out on the limb in assume-land here) she was left a little lackluster by the Matisse exhibit, just like I was! But she also (just like me!) had the good idea of swinging through the impressionist gallery on the way out. And spent several minutes (just like I did) in front of Morisot's Woman in the Garden..... But that's another story, eh?
For now, you need to see the painting. A painting that despite it's title, is a cup half full. A painting about happy. A painting about people enjoying life. Thanks for stopping by.
Park Bench Siesta, acrylic painting on a nicely sized 12 x 24 inch canvas. And of course, for a close look, you'll find it in my portfolio. Just click on the colored letters for the link.
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. Saturday we drove down to the Science Center of Iowa (DesMoines) to see the exhibit, DaVinci The Genius.
Am I glad we went? Yes. Will I tell you EVERYONE should go see it? No.
First of all, lot's of people took their young children---oops. It's not for them. A thoughtful eight year old might enjoy it, younger or unfocused kids were mostly just bored, eager to leave. Is it for people who want to ooh and aah over the art? Nope. All the art was reproductions, but then again, we are talking about the Science Center, not the Art Center.
I think the exhibit's best message was "look at how this guy used his time and talents, and shouldn't we go and do our best as well". Or something like that! We think of him as an artist, but he obviously did not let that limit his scope.
We used one of the little handhelds for the audio tour, which was a good addition. But I was reminded of the recent discussions regarding people who "shape an exhibit with their opinions" (Go listen to Scott Burdick's Beauty 1 view of art historians text and long winded expose's falsely adding importance to questionable art) At one specific place, the nice British-accent-voice talked about DaVinci "probably" being gay--it did cause a good discussion. If he really was 6'6" (exceptionally tall for the times?), carved up bodies so he could study and draw, designed war machines, was obviously a brain-iac (geek?)--then we concluded he didn't hang out with guys because he was gay, he hung out with guys because women were either scared of him or grossed out by his activities. Now if he'd just written a letter or two, talking about the girl he couldn't catch...
Let's talk still lifes this afternoon. It doesn't happen too often around here, so I should probably explain why today is the day. Cropped and I like it--that's my explanation.
I suppose I have to give you the background. Before I went to Thieves Art Market in Iowa City in December, I was working on a few still lifes to add to the portfolio. One of them has been leaning on the studio wall ever since, and you know what wall leaning means: something isn't quite right.
Today was the aha! day. Still Life 12 2 2010 wanted to be cropped. Cropped and I like it. What on earth caused me to originally put in all that extra stuff that was not necessary? Was it a case of I've got all this blank canvas? Was it poor planning? Was it artist-loosing-the-focus? Or was it a case of the best idea came second? I vote for that one :) But here's your look:
Still Life 12 2 2010, acrylic painting on a PERFECTLY SIZED :) 12 x 24 inch canvas, and of course it can be found in my portfolio, for your viewing pleasure.
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. It's yet early---I can't see much outside the office window. But an early start on the day is good, right? Going to work in the dark, hmm.
My husband is one of those early morning people. His work day is scheduled to start at 7:30, but he is ALWAYS there and working before then. Except for Tuesday morning. Oh, he left on time. He walked into his building on time. And then he drove back home to change his shoe. Yup, singular. Shoe. Ah, the hazards of doing things in the dark. Sometimes you just can't appreciate the true color of some things in the dark. Like one black shoe, and one brown shoe :)
When we moved to Jefferson, things turned out pretty fine regarding studio space. I have a long narrow space that is mostly windows on three sides. Light filled to the max, in the daytime. In the off hours, there is something about all that glass with nighttime behind it--painting becomes difficult. I suppose I should invest in a really good lighting system, so I could paint around the clock, eh?
On the other hand, I can use that nature-imposed scheduling. There are a lot of jobs that need done around this studio, that aren't impacted by the mirror like qualities of all that glass with darkness outside. Blogs to write. Reference photos and thumbnail sketches to prepare/organize. Canvases to stretch and gesso. The planning part of the game.
When the sun comes up and the studio fills with light, good light, I stand a better chance of being ready with the paint brush. Going to work in the dark has its benefits.
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa, where it is a beautiful day, I might add, despite being winter! Beautiful enough, that I think we should talk about artistic vision. Or the vision of the artist, whichever way you want to say it.
But let's begin at the beginning--it is my job to let you know where this is coming from, right? I'm fairly sure I've told you about Jefferson, Iowa before. It's one of those little midwestern towns that's just pretty comfortable in its own skin. While the city fathers would no doubt like for Jefferson to be called a city, it's really just a town, plain and simple. About 5,000 people, all pretty laid back in attitude, or so it seems. No big deal when someone decides to load their pooch into the truck and drive uptown for coffee.
Now we're getting to the part about artistic vision. Mine, specifically. If someone loads their little yapper dog, or their little puff-ball dog into the front seat of the family auto, it just really doesn't do much for me, artistic-vision speaking. On the other hand if someone drives the square of downtown Jefferson, with their hound dog riding shotgun, well, that's a different story. You understand what I mean about hound dog, don't you? Saggy, baggy eyes. Big floppy ears. Drool-slobber. Slobber-drool. If it's summer and the passenger side window is open, you know it's all hanging out there.
Can any of us help but grin at a sight like that? I find I tend to mentally catalog images of that sort. I remember them, but just for the enjoyment of it. A beautiful landscape, something in the "waterfall falling off the side of a mountain in Colorado" status, goes in the same mental file. Quite often, beautiful flowers will end up there as well. It's a file of images I totally enjoy, but don't have to take any further than that. Just enjoy.
As an artist that loves to paint beautiful things, you'd think I'd be right on top of those images with my paint brush, wouldn't you? Surely each artist amongst us has a built-in attention meter that zings into overdrive when some vision out in the world captures our attention, the kind that makes us frantic if we don't have the sketchbook or camera handy. The kind of vision that we automatically know will end up on a canvas in our studio someday.
Possibly by looking at my portfolio, you will have guessed the integral factor required for a sight out there in the world to trip my attention-meter. People. They don't have to be famous, or beautiful. Fast or slow. Tall or short. In fact, I would say I'm not too picky at all. [Oh wait, don't ask me to paint your NASCAR driver :)] Is it the challenge? People know when they look at a painting of other humans, if it's done right. There's grace and balance there, and what an aha! moment it is when the paint brush finds it. And what a never ending source of inspiration there is hanging out on the sidewalks of the world!
But back to that hound dog riding shotgun that I saw this morning. I would say dogs don't normally trip my artist-attention-o-meter, but did I mention that this morning's traveler riding shotgun had a "matching" driver? Pooch and owner look-alikes! Don't you just love when that happens? Now that could be a good enough story for a painting....
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa, where apparently the resident artist is sorely lacking in geek skills at the moment.
Last week, on the FineArtViews newsletter, Moshe told us about QR code. He gave us the info to go about generating our own. It's a very simple form. Surely anyone can do it, right?
So I type in my url and it gives me this cool little image which I dutifully save to my file to use at my leisure. I add it to my facebook page. Cool, eh? Wrong. Apparently it's unreadable. What on earth did I mess up?---other than owning a stupid phone instead of a smartphone, where I could experiment a little on my own. If anyone has any good advice, I'd love to hear it.