Category Archives: Randomness

Festival 2015

I wanted share an image of the original oil painting I created for the posters for Festival of the Arts in Grand Rapids 2015.

festival painting

The painting will be on display and for sale at the Richard App Gallery (910 Cherry St Se, Grand Rapids, MI). There are poster prints (2 sizes) and coffee cups for sale at the gallery as well.

Check out some of the buzz here…..and here….and here.

Carolyn Schaner’s awesome photos

I knew Carolyn Schaner came from a talented family, but I was blown away by the beautiful images this young lady has captured.  And she goes to my church, attends Michigan State University (GO STATE!!), and she rows – how cool is that?!

Her photos are for sale, and her website has an easy order type layout with an available price list.  She did it up right.

Also, she has entered Art Prize 2011 in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her work is on display at West Coast Coffee on Monroe Cn NW, right in the middle of downtown, next to the police department. 

So check out her website at Absolute Clarity Photography. And if you are in the area, come and check out her Art Prize entry “BLOOM” with voting code of 56211.

The first stage in getting a novel published

This post is about my journey to get a fiction novel published. I wrote a 110,150 word crime fiction novel called Witness Tampering that I am actively querying literary agents for representation.  

My post title says “the first stage in getting a book published,” but I guess I really have gone through many stages over the last year and a half.

The story actually begins before that, but for now I am excited that a literary agent in Connecticut liked not only my query letter, but also the 1st 10 pages that I had emailed to them.  They actually said that they were interested and wanted a synopsis and the 1st 50 pages. Yeah!  I mean, this is a huge deal…ok well in my mind it is anyway.

To me, it means that somebody in the business likes my overall genre/idea and feels that, well for at least the 1st 10 pages, that my writing doesn’t totally suck!

The journey began several years ago when I decided to write a fiction history book. It involved the interaction between two friends – a teacher and a cop.  The teacher ends up sharing the history of the world from 10,000 BC until the present while they drink beer and eat pizza. They do this because the teacher is a psychology teacher in high school and has been preparing to teach his first history class. The cop, whose family was away for the weekend, had nothing better to do other than to listen and give the teacher crap as he, himself, slowly  finds history interesting as the weekend progresses.

Sounds cool, eh?  Well apparently readers felt that the story between the friends kept getting interrupted by the history, or there was not enough detail in the history because it moved too fast. I had the 90,000 word manuscript test read and they all said the same thing. So for now, that book has been tabled as non-fuctioning.

That brings me to my fiction book, Witness Tampering.

This book is over 110,000 words and I started it in the fall of 2009 while my history book was being test read. After tons…I mean TONS…of drafts, I am finally ready to seek agent representation. That process is interesting in and of itself and maybe I’ll post more on that later. 

But for now, I am just glad to pass step #1.  I call it “the I don’t completely suck at writing and have wasted my time” step. :) 

I would be curious to hear from others who are going through this process. Just leave a comment on this post.

Either way, it is awesome to be able to tap into your childhood creativity again, whether it is with painting, writing, singing, or whatever.

New oil paintings of a tree in the breeze

I know…I know…I haven’t had very many new paintings this last year.  But, but it is not what it seems. I did not just become a lazy bump on a log. First of all, I have poured tons of energy into my Functional Fitness blog, http://kemmefitness.com.

More relevant to my free time, however, has been my writing.  At first, I wrote a history book. It was a completely new and fresh idea – a history book about world history from 10,000 BC until present day as told from two friends, a teacher and a cop. Well….it apparently was a hard read. A comment that summed it up was, “I liked the characters, but then they talked about history too much, or else I loved the history, but didn’t get enough of it because the two characters moved on.”

So then I started Witness Tampering, a crime fiction novel. It began about a year and a half ago and, actually as I type this, I have several queries out there for agent representation. It only took about 7 drafts to get there. Oh, and don’t forget, I wrote my Functional Fitness ebook, The Body That God Intended Us To USE last summer.

But, I did finish a series of 3 paintings that tie in as one, titled “Dianne’s Breezy Tree.” Check them out below, and let me know what you think.

How to salvage a painting you are frustrated with

We’ve all been there. You know, that point in a painting where you say, “this sucks.”  You realize that it is not going the way you envisioned and it is quickly turning into something that you will gladly coat with gesso so you can start over with a new painting.

I always think the same thing. How did I get here? I planned ahead and had excellent reference material. I blocked in my colors and paid attention to the lights and darks. I kept checking the composition as I slowly started to fill it in and develop the details. Then, out of nowhere, I realize that I hate this mess of color in front of me.

Don’t get me wrong. There is something extremely liberating about grabbing out my bucket of gesso and covering over a painting. I simply chalk it up to a learning experience and move on. I never keep unsucesssful paintings around.

But instead of throwing in the towel so easily, I have a few ideas to get you to change your mind about your painting.

Tip #1:  Grab your palette knife and scrape off as much paint as you can. You will still have the general shapes and colors, but you no longer have the piles of paint that were built up as you struggled and struggled to get a certain area perfect.  You might be surprised how a thinned out canvas can reinspire you to go at it again.

Tip #2:  Turn your painting upside down. Many artists do that periodically anyway in order to check composition, color arrangement, and shape design. But it also helps at times to pull you out of a funk with a painting.

Tip #3:  Set it aside. Just put it away while you work on other paintings for a few months. Maybe you just need a break and will get back in the mood. Sometimes I think I simply have lost the mood I had when I envisioned the painting and I have to wait until I get it back in order to continue.

Tip #4: This is the most fun tip of all. I have at times given up on a painting, when I say, “oh what the hell.” I grab a large brush and just do extemely bold brush strokes. If it doesn’t turn out, I was scrapping it anyway. Check out “Indian Creek Canal – Huntsville.” This was actually a painting that I gave up on after blocking in the color. It sat in my studio, unfinished, for almost a year. One day I came up with the idea to paint with only large vertical and horizontal brush strokes. The result was something totally unexpected…and I loved it.

So the next time you are about to shove your palette knife through the center of you canvas, just take a minute and try one of my tips. You never know what will come out of it. Besides, you have nothing to lose.

Oil paint with 7 colors…yes you heard me right!

The title of this post says that I paint with 7 colors (plus white). Actually I paint about 90% of my pictures using only 3 colors.

Take a look at the painting, “Leonard Street Barn.” This was the first painting I ever did with just the 3 colors. As you can see, there is a wide variety of color, both in the lights and in the shadows. It took me only 1 hour to complete this painting on a 9″ by 12″ canvas board. Try counting the colors you see. I did this in a class taught by Jim Connelly. That was when I learned how to truly understand color and when I first began to have actual control over it. Let me explain.

Prior to limiting my palette of colors, I had a whole heaping basket of oil paints. I had several reds, yellows, blues, and of course the whole gamut of earth tones like Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. It was so confusing to know which colors to grab, and it seemed like the more I used, the more I got confused and my colors failed to blend together well visually on the canvas. Color can be overwhelming.

But all you need is the ability to make black to be able to create the majority of your colors. How do you do that, you might ask?

Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Indian Yellow (or something similar). I can make a perfectly balanced black with mixing just those 3 colors. Add white and you have a gray scale.

Take away a touch of the blue and you have something more brown. Remember brown is really a dark orange, so without the blue you are left with more red and yellow (red and yellow make orange). Simple as that. Take away a little of the red and you are in deep dark green territory. And of course, less yellow means you are in the purple area. Add some of that white and you get your colors. Forget buying Burnt Umber.  Make it.  In fact, a little Ultramarine Blue added to a Burnt Sienna makes the Burnt Umber.

As you can see, you have control now, while automatically allowing for some harmony. Think about it…if you are only using 3 colors, your painting will retain harmony no matter how crazy you get!

Now you might see the holes you have to fill with that palette. What you truly need is a warm and a cool of your blue, yellow, and red. So I have a Cerulean Blue to go with my Ultramarine. That is especially needed for skies near the horizon. Mix the two and you have a Cobalt Blue, so forget buying that one again. I have a cool yellow with a Lemon Yellow and a warmer red with a Cadmium Red.

What is the 7th color? I have a Viridian Green because that is just so unique and rich of a color (you simply can’t make it). Add the Ultramarine Blue to it and you have a great many more deep blues. A touch of Alizarin Crimson with them and you have crazy purples. This 7th color is only for very specific colors and I use it rarely. The main use is for the aqua colors of the Caribbean. Truly, I paint 90% of my paintings with just the 3 main colors.

I suggest you do what I did in the beginning. Put a swatch of paint from all your various tubes on a piece of paper and label them.  Then create all the colors you can from your limited palette.  Make all the greens, from dark to light with the addition of white, etc.  You will soon see that you found your Sap Green right there at one point. That means you do not have to buy another tube of that.

I did that with about 30 tubes of paint. I found each one on my color chart made from my 7 colors. I no longer needed to buy anything but my 7. Did I mention I am cheap?  So not only did it make it easier for me to find the right color, but it saved me money! To me, that is worth the effort right there. And along the way, you will find that you gain more and more control over you colors, and therefore your paintings.

The truth about artwork

“Can’t you just paint my entire family perched on a rock off the top of your head? I’ll give you some photos to use.”

As an artist, I dread those questions because I know it will take a small disseration to explain why most artists can not just paint anything they want out of their imagination and make it come to life.

I discovered that most people truly belive that the great painters of old just painted their masterpieces off the top of their head and/or that reference materials is “cheating.” They do not understand that even the Great Masters had models and painted on locations outside.

Of course, the more an artist paints a subject, the more they can paint from memory. But usually a portrait painter can not paint a landscape without either being there or having good reference material. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. There are very creative , talented people that have no training or drawing skills, but create beautiful and emotional paintings. On the flip side, there are skilled technical painters who can paint in Photorealism.

I believe that most art should be in between somewhere. Every professional artist should be skilled in drawing, composition, value, color, and design. but also they need to put a part of themselves into the painting and create something with emotion.

What does that mean for commissioned art? Well I can paint a picture off a photograph and my paintings will look like that photograph. But we all know that photographs do not capture the likeness of a person – they are cold and distant and only show resemblances. Not to mention, there are other short comings with photo references such as distortion and loss of color.

Of course I can paint something that I do not know intimately by using a photo, but the viewer will be able to tell. Artists need to connect to what they are painting. For a portrait artist, this means that they need to spend time with the subject and paint them in their studio or have several photos to use with the right lighting and poses with tons of expressions to choose from.

For a landscape artist, this means going to the location and either painting en plein aire (outside) or taking the right photo references and making sketches or notes of colors and composition.

All we artists ask is that people understand that just because we can paint a nice picture of one thing, it does not mean that we have the ability to paint whatever we want with the same success. We do not have a magic talent, we just have developed skills in seeing things and expressing them on canvas or paper after years of practice.

So, just because somebody is “an artist,” it doesn’t mean they have this unique gift that allows them to create anything they want. And be gentle the next time you find out that an artist used a projector to blow up a photo reference. Honestly…they are not cheating.

The Value of a painting

How do you determine the value of any given piece of art?

My simple answer is that the answer is extremely complicated and is continuing to be a source of headaches for me. I guess the correct answer would be that it depends on several things. The type of medium is one possible factor, as is the style. The size of the piece is important as well as the reputatoin of the artist. An important issue is whether the artist or the buyer determines the value. Along those lines is the issue of how the painting is sold or marketed.

I want to start out by talking about the medium. For this article I want to keep it simple and talk only about two-dimensional paintings. So the question would be, why is an oil painting generally valued higher than a similar acrylic or even a watercolor painting? Do not forget other mediums like casein, alkyds, gouache, pastels, egg tempera, or colored pencils.

I found that the medium does not really impact the vlalue placed on a painting, although there are people that would surely challenge me to a duel with pistols over that issue. However, for some reason oil paintings do seem to be valued a little higher. For more discussion, see the post Why Oil Paint.

The style could affect the price or value of a painting. Abstract versus comptemporary realism versus pointalism versus impressionism. This topic is more subjective and probably more tied  in with the other factors such as marketing. For example, during one year contemporary realistic cityscapes are popular, while the next year abstract flowers are hot. If you paint in the currert style, you may see more value placed on your art. In fact most great artists of the past were not valued in their time simply because they were ahead of their time. Yes, my wife hopes my paintings will be worth more after I’m dead.

Now when it comes to paintings, size does matter. Artists and buyers tend to agree that it should cost more for a 36 by 40 inch painting than for a similar 16 by 20 inch painting. In fact, most artists price their paintings by the size and usually not by the difficulty level or time spent on the particular piece.

Artist reputation is another subjective criteria, but one that is a little more easy to grasp. I doubt anybody would argue on my behalf that one of my landscapes should be worth several million dollars even it if looked as interesting and well done as a Monet. Again, I hear my wife saying that she hopes to make more money after I’m dead.

So who really sets the value – the artist or the buyer? Initially the artist obviously puts the price on his/her painting, but it is not that simple because the price has to be reasonable enough for somebody to buy it. Here is what is giving me a headache.

I view it as that there are two forces at work here. One is the art community, including artists, galleries, and collectors. It is the responsibility of the art community to push up the value of art for the rest of society. Art can be good for society as a whole because it can create a market and therefore jobs, as well as adding interest and excitement to everybody’s lives, thereby enriching society as a whole. I know that it sounds a little exaggerated and grandiose, but societies have historically been more well rounded and sustaining when the arts flourish.

The other side is the old supply/demand principle. Art prices can not be pushed too high in any given market or people will not buy the art and it just sits in artists’ basements and bankrupt galleries. Yes, I know I am exaggerating again but that pull between the two forces is there.

For me, I have to decide whether I price my art so everybody can buy it, but then I would undermine the local art community by placing a lower value on local art. Ok…so then do I price my art higher and force my supporters to pay those prices, or even worse – not buy my art at all? I only have so much room in my studio!

This brings me to how art is sold and the market. Art sold in galleries is high because the galleries do a lot of the work to bring artists and collectors together and they then need their compensation, usually 50% of the sale. Yes, you read it correctly – 50%. Some galleries do less, but the 50/50 split is the most common.

Some artists sell at fairs and art shows, but the prices have to accommodate the spur-of-the-moment shopper and so most of the art are watercolors, pastels, acrylics, or prints of oil paintings. My point is that it depends on where you are selling your art and what market you are tapping into when deciding on prices for art.

So what does this all mean? 

It means that my family and friends have told me that my prices are too low. My fellow artists have actually lectured me not to do that and I have been accused of undermining the local art community. I did not think my art had such an impact, so I take those accusations as a compliment.

Of course if my prices are too low, then why do I have a whole studio full of art? I want that art in people’s home and offices to enjoy.

Ok…now I have a headache again.

How to be a professional artist

I have met many people in the last few years with great skills and talent. They all have the same thing in common – “day jobs.” Creating art is their hobby.

Well for some of us, we start getting more involved in our “hobby” and maybe start selling some of our artwork, or get commissioned to do a drawing or painting. At what point do we cross that line and become the ever valued professional artist? Well I have been trying to figure this one out and I finally struck oil. In order to explain my enlightenment to you, I will have to take you on my journey.

Here I was, a chubby twelve year old boy with a colored pencil set. My mother told me that my grandmother was an artist and that it runs in my blood, but all I did was just get bored one weekened up at the family cabin and draw a few pictures. They were not that great as I look at them subjectively now – a sunset off a cliff in one and a farm house in the woods for the other. But when my mother showed them to everyone and the praises started coming, I realized I had true talent. You know the same way my own daughter must have felt when she was five years old and I told her  that she was the most beautiful dancer in the world.

Parents lie to build self-esteem. Thank goodness I did not know that back then.

I kept drawing and then came my first acrylic painting set. Ok, I was definitely not a professional artist in middle school. Nor was I even one when two other artists and I organized the 1992 Grand Haven High School Art Show. I only took one drawing class in college, so that does not help. I kept painting that whole time here and there, but I am not sure I even reached the level of a hobbyist up and through college. I drew pictures for other people, but that was usually to get dates or because I was too cheap to buy a real birthday present.

Well after I got my “day job” I started doing some commissioned drawings, but I was not good at asking for appropriate pay, so that became more hassle then it was worth. Still far from being a professional artist.

Finally I had my artwork on display at the Grand Rapids Police Department in 2003 in a show with a talented artist from the fire department. We even got in the paper. Then a whirlwind took over and I met up with a printer, who made limited edition prints of one of my paintings and we sold those for $119 each. Now I was ready to start the business and make the move when the printer, who was also going to market my work, disappeared from town.

Now how was I to sell my art?

Art and craft shows usually have more crafts than art. And even at fine art shows most spontaneous buyers only buy water colors, pastels, photos, or prints; not large original oil paintings. I was not to be deterred and hence came my quest to get represented by a gallery. That would surely mean I was a professional!  I went to many in town and even showed a few my work.  They liked some of it, but said I was young and my work was too sentimental.  I worked harder and reapplied only to be told the same thing.

Finally I took the best advice ever and signed up for a workshop from a respected artist, Jim Connelly. That is when I decided to forget being a professional artist and to just enjoy painting and experimenting and growing at my trade.  Besides, there are artists in galleries that only sell a few paintings a year anyway.

But then it happened…my wife wanted to start framing my paintings, so we opened our business, Kemme Fine Art & Framing, LLC. I made fancy business cards, letterhead, fax cover sheets, and started on a brochure. My wife worked all winter learning her trade and then I go and accidentally cut off my left ring finger on the table saw while doing yard work. Ooops. That ended my wife’s framing part of the business – she just did not want to hop on the saw after that. And just when we were getting professional!

Well that was ok. I still sold some paintings to friends and family, so I decided to keep painting and donate a few paintings a year to charities for tax write-offs. Unfortunately I shortly discovered that I can not write-off the fair market value since I created the art. That is when I decided to try commission work again. 2006 marked the first year when I became a commissioned oil painter (mostly landscapes). Fallasberg Covered Bridge was my first piece. To top it off, I even created a professional looking postcard to advertise my new niche. Looking back, I’m not thrilled I spent the money to print several hundred of those things.

Anyway, I got another mention in the paper for a portrait I did of our police chaplain. I even had somebody see my name and say that they were happy to meet me because they recognized me as a local artist they liked (those donations to auctions had a happy surprise).

That was it! I became a professional artist…right? Oh but wait, I still have a “day job” and there is no sign of that going away.  You know – family, mortgage, health insurance, etc.  But what if people view me as a professional artist because of this blog and my fancy postcard sized brochure? Does that count? What if I make several thousand dollars this year in sales? Does that push me across that line?

On second thought, who is even the judge on whether I am a professional artist or not? What if I were to quit my “day job” and paint full-time, but do not sell any more paintings than I do now? 

Apparently I do not have the answer after all. If you figure it out, can you please tell me?

The sentimental debate

Just to clarify, by sentimental debate I am not referring to a sensitive way of arguing the pros and cons concerning art, or any topic. I am talking about the question of what does it mean to have a piece of art be overly sentimental, and why is that a bad thing, if it is really a bad thing.

I do not know if this issue is the most controversial topic in the art world, but it sure has impacted me. To explain what I’m talking about, I will take you on a little journey (yes again) back to when I first heard that word pertaining to artwork. I was presenting my art to galleries in the Grand Rapids area, and meeting with the owners. I kept hearing that word being used to describe some of my art and I received several warnings not to cross the line any further.

At first I did not know exactly what they meant and I faked understanding out of embarassment. After a while I pieced it together though. What the various gallery owners were referring to was what I later came to call “being cheesy.” Let’s say you have a painting of a field near a barn. That does not necessarily sound “cheesy.” Now let’s add a little swing, a farm cat asleep on the porch, the farmer milking the cow, and maybe a bright green tractor. Then to make it more clear, just think of any stereotypes about a happy farm house and throw them in the picture as well. Oh I know…how about a little girl swinging on a tire swing (which by the way was the subject of a picture that I had showed to a gallery once).

Now you have what I was told is an overly sentimental painting.

I remember one gallery owner showed me the Art Business News that I was also subscribed to and pointed out all my favorite pictures of women laying leisurely on  beds and mothers with their daughters strolling on the beach in sun dresses. I thought he was going to talk about how interesting the brush strokes appeared in the photos of those oil paintings, but then he said something like, “See what I mean? It makes me want to throw up. All the art in this magazine is crap.”

Wow, I thought those pictures were amazing because of the technique used by the artist and the wonderful feeling they gave me about how beautiful life can be. Well what is a good painting then? I became completely confused and what I thought I knew I realized I did not know at all. Then he finally added that a painting does not necessarily have to be about garbage in the streets or death, but that it has to be about real life.

Ok, now I at least understood his point. I suppose I do not know any extraordinarily beautiful women just lying around draped in pink sheets on their bed, perfectly posed.

Well now that I understood how to avoid painting something that was overly sentimental, I began to purge those ideas from my artwork. Then just when I thought I had figured out the art world, I was blind-sided again. At first it was just little commments from friends and family about how they loved those “cheesy” paintings and how they make them feel good.  Then I noticed yet another retail store open for Thomas Kinkade (that very same gallery owner I talked to used Kinkade’s artwork as an example of extreme over-sentimentality). If he is not a good painter, why does he have dozens of retail stores? People seem to love his paintings and he apparently must be quite wealthy by now, which one could argue is a measure of success.

Soon I noticed “cheesy” paintings all over the place. They were at art shows, in people’s living rooms, and offices all over the area from my dentist’s office to government buildings.  If that type of artwork has no value, why are people buying it? Does not the fact that people value that art enough to pay for it mean that it has value? Who is right then – the gallery owner or the mass of people buying all that “cheesy” artwork?

I guess for artists it must be about who they are painting for. Are they painting for the millions of us who like a nice picture to match the colors in our living room, or are they painting to create a piece of art that holds merit to art collectors and gallery owners?

For me, I found a balance. I strive to push myself further with my artwork to create art that means something and has interest on several levels. But every now and then I will paint something that I believe somebody might buy someday because it has nice colors and water in it (people love the calming effect of water in a picture). I suppose I will let others decide if my art has value, “cheesy” or not.