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,

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.

Why oil paint?

Why oil paint? Why not acrylic, watercolor, alkyds, casein, gouache, colored pencil, egg tempera, or pastels?

It is hard to explain, but there is just something about oils that make that medium the king of all mediums. It is not that oils are necessarily the oldest and most reliable way to make a picture. In fact, it is quite possible to paint with oils in a way to jeopardize the longevity of the picture. I guess before I go on about what makes oils so special, I will have to bore many readers with a little art history. Although I have read hundreds of books on art, I was never an art student and I would be careful quoting my little art history lesson to anybody who possesses any real knowledge on the subject.

Well most of us know that people have made pictures since the ice ages and that the earliest societies such as Ancient Egypt had great artists, but art the way we know it was more prominent in the last thousand years. One of the earlier mediums was egg tempera, which – you guessed it – uses egg yolk. “Temperas” are binder agents that support the pigments (actual colors). Egg tempera was first popular in the middle ages in Southern Europe and it dries very rapidly like your morning omelet does on your frying pan (which is a pain to clean off if you don’t soak it immediately). Egg tempera basically has to be applied in thin layers, so the colors tend to not be as rich as with other mediums. Many artists make their own paint – and yes – they use eggs.

Another “dairy” paint is casein, which is derived from milk. Ancient Egyptians painted with casein, which dries with a nice even consistency. That made casein very valuable for painting murals.

Gouache, which was first popular in 12th century Islamic art, on the other hand, is not a muralist’s best friend. Gouache is like watercolor in that it is pigment supported in water, but there is a white chalk added that makes gouache paints heavier and opaque. They dry differently than other mediums because the dark colors dry and become lighter while the lighter colors dry and become darker.

Now take out the white chalk and you have watercolor…essentially. Watercolors are generally used on papaer instead of canvas, which would explain why watercolors became so popular in Europe in the 1400’s after paper became readily available. One of the differences with watercolor compared to the other mediums is that artists paint light to dark, meaning they first paint in the light colors, then darker colors as they progress through the painting, leaving the white of the paper for the lightest lights.

Other mediums that are more typically done on paper are pastels and colored pencils. I never would have thought that artists could make fine art with colored pencils, but I have since seen some of the most beaitful rich pictures done in colored pencils.  There are many techniques to build up the colors to a rich, dark, smooth finish. Heck, 2010’s Art Prize winner was in pencil!

If that sounds like it takes too long, pastels are a good alternative, although more of a messy one. I picture my elementary school days with pastels all over my clothes by the time I finished my project. Pastels were first mentioned by Leonardo De Vinci in 1495 and became very popular for 18th century portraits. Today there are many different types of pastels such as hard pastels, soft pastels, oil pastels, and water-soluable pastels.

The newest kid on the block is acrylic paint, which was first commercially available in the 1950’s. Anybody that has painted a room in their house knows how fast acrylics dry. Pull off the dried paint around the rim of the can and you can easily tell the “plastic” feel of dry acyrlic paint. They are not natural. I don’t mean that because they are weird, I say that because they are actually synthetic.

Another fast drying medium are alkyds, which are just fast drying oil paints. One of the main differences between oils and alkyds is that alkyd paint dries with evaporation while oil paints dry by oxidation.

Now let’s talk oils!

Oils were used in England as early as the 13th century, but not really applied for artisic purposes until the 15th century. Oils dry very slowly, which allows the artist to blend the wet paint hours or even days after the previous layer was applied. As mentioned above, oils can hold a great deal of pigment, which is why oil paintings can be richer in color than some of the other mediums. This ability to capture color is why I switched to oils myself, but other mediums can be used to create just as brillant colors. Other mediums have the history that oils have, if not more. Other mediums show off interesting brush strokes and others can create beautiful soft blended areas just like oils.

So why is there this aura about these smelly, buttery paints? I believe that when most of us think of exceptional art, we think of the Great Masters of the Renaissance Period in Europe, and they mostly painted in oil paint. Maybe that is why many of us associate oils as the medium used for the greatest paintings of all time?

So why do I paint with oils? Maybe I just like the feel, the consistency, the slow drying time, the smell of turpentine in the evening, the ability to paint thin or thick, or maybe the ability to create any color out of only 7 colors and white. Or maybe it is just because I want to be assocaited with the Great Masters. Hey, I  need all the help I can get!

Why an art blog?

You may ask, “What is this blog, and why should I read it?”

Well during the last several years I learned a great deal about the art community here in Grand Rapids, and I realized that, at least in the circles I belong, that there is not a large amount of dicussion over fine art. There was even less prior to Art Prize coming to town a few years ago.

But even now, we have our festivals and a rich culture, a few art competitions (ok Art Prize is the largest cash prize competition in history), and a number of non-centrally located galleries. But that is it. It just seems like our medical community draws more conversation than our art community.

Art Prize winner 2010

Art Prize winner 2009

I have found a select few who will engage in a conversation with me over brush strokes and the pursuit to avoid sentimentality in paintings. Unfortunately, most people that I know judge a painting on how realistic it looks. The closer to Photorealism, the better the painting, and therefore the better the artist. Just look at the winners and the top two-dimensional entries in Art Prize.

I admit that I had a huge learning curve these last ten years. I mean, I did not study art in college, and it was only a few years ago that I took my first workshop. As I grow as an artist and strive to create something more profound and emotional as opposed to creating a larger Kodak print, I realize how art can not only affect the artist, but also the audience. I have also found other artists and have heard their struggles to survive and support a family as well as others who wish they could make the leap to be a full-time artist and leave their unfulfilling “day jobs” behind them.

This would be a good place to make one of my confessions…I am a history buff. I’ll leave it at that for now, but it has been clear to me how art has been highly valued throughout history. Not just the good times, but the really bad times filled with war and plagues. I just can’t belive why people today do not value art and what it can bring to society, and why we do not talk about it at every third water cooler. I say ever third, because you still have to fit in the war in Iraq and the economy.

This brings me to the blog. I moved my website to the blog in order to merge it with the newsletter, The Art Advocate, I had created a few years back. I called it the Art Advocate because I wanted to advocate for art. Art and the discussion of it, the pursuit of it, and the appreciation of it, has value for us and I want to promote that. This blog is my attempt to bring art to those of us who do not hang out at an art salon (or do not konw that an art salon has nothing to do with your hair).

To answer the final question, Why should you read this? I honestly have no good answer for that one. I can say that one of my goals is for other more interesting writers to contribute as guest posters in the future, so be patient.

Until then, I hope your next water cooler (ok nobody actually talks at a water cooler anymore) conversation will include a discussion about the controversial issue of the use of photographs as reference material.

My best friend, my paint brush

Have you ever watched an artist gaze intently at his/her paint brush?

Maybe you overheard your junior high school art teacher whisper oh so quietly to their old wooden handled filbert brush while sitting in the corner of the classroom.

No? Well I know for sure that I am not the only painter with a special relationship with my paint brush. To confess, I actually have more than one brush that I am intimate with. In fact, I have a whole harem, including synthetic brushes and my Eastern European sounding foreign comrade, the Kolinsky sable brush (I even have him in two sizes). 

I am sure you may wonder why the paint brush is so important to artists. Other tools such as paint, easels, canvas, paper, and thinners can affect the quality of a painting. However, the paint brush will directly impact the styel which is unique to the artist.

My paintings just would not be my paintings without my flat or bright style bristle brushes. I will explain this more, but first I have to admit that my relationships with my paint brushes were not always like this. And like most relationships, it has evolved over time.

At first, I simply had a paint brush. I needed one of those to dip into the cup of paint in order to get the paint onto the canvas or paper without getting my fingers all dirty. They meant nothing to me and I would just discard them after misuse, lack of care, and abuse on the canvas. Buying a paint brush was easy too. I would go to a staore, find a size I would like, find the cheapest version of it, and pay for it. Boy those were the days!

As I got older and was able to financially afford higher quality materials, I thought that better paint would change my world. I once thought that a better golf ball would make my drives straighter also, but buying higher quality equipment will not make an athlete into a professional. Buying higher quality art supplies will not make an artist a professional either.

The paint brush, though, becomes part of an expression that makes an artist who they are. It does not make them necessarily a better painter, it just makes them who they are. Of course better paint and canvas can make a better quality painting, and watercolor artists would do themselves a great injustice if they used inferior paper. But each paint brush is designed to handle paint differently. My soft sable brushes are reserved for creating smooth blending for portraits. I use my synthetics to spread large washes of color in the beginning of my painting process.

And I rely heavily on my bristle brushes to create the visible brush strokes. These strokes are what I feel make my paintings interesting and are what I hope the viewers come back to again and again as they discover the variations and patterns, once the intitial emotional impact of the painting fades.

So what type of brush should an artist buy?

Looking at the paint brush section at an art store makes you think you are buying a hunting license. Do you want hog bristle, black sable, mongoose, or white sable? And what about the types of brushes? Do you want a flat or bright? How about a round or filbert, or maybe a fan brush? Is there anything wrong with synthetic brushes? I mean they usually are cheaper, so are they of less quality?

Unfortunately there really is no good information out there to tell you. Believe me, I looked. It really comes down to trial and error. But as you try different brushes, you grow as an artist. Then before you realize it, you start to forge a relationship and your style begins to emerge. Each brush stroke has meaning and only your brushes can help you make that stroke what it needs to be.

Next thing you know, you are alone in your studio, whispering oh so gently to your number 6 bright hog bristle brush!