The so-called problem with Christian music

Newworldson, from just over the border in St. Catharines, Ontario.
My inbox overflowed with comments yesterday about “the problem with contemporary Christian music”, after an essay by Michael Gungor. I was dumbfounded.
Gungor’s full of bunk. Contemporary Christian music has been in a renaissance for the past two decades. This makes sense in that we’ve been in a period of evangelical fervor (some have called it the Fourth Great Awakening) since the mid-sixties.
Of course, it’s important to remember that every artistic movement includes a lot of dreck. For example, the British Invasion gave us the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies but it also gave us Do Wah Diddy Diddyby Manfred Mann.
What the heck! Let’s just feature photos of Canadians today. This is Starfield, from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Following is a list of current Christian music in a variety of styles. (I’m bypassing contemporary black gospel for the most part, because it’s at least another blog entry, one I’m not qualified to write.) After listening, can you really say that contemporary Christian music has a problem?
All Around/Israel Houghton
Break Every Chain/Jesus Culture
Count Me In/Leeland
Deathbed/Relient K
He Reigns/Newsboys
In the Light/DC Talk
Jesus Movement/Audio Adrenaline
My Delight Is In You/Christy Nockles
My Generation/Starfield
New Creation/Leeland
Revelation Song/Phillips, Craig & Dean
Rooftops/Jesus Culture
Signature of Divine/Needtobreathe
The Face of Love/Sanctus Real
The Orphan/Newsboys
The Saving One/Starfield
Your Great Name/Natalie Grant
Working Man/Newworldson*

*Full disclosure: my personal faves. And they’re from St. Catharines, Ontario.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Making money the old-fashioned way

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell, 1951
A Norman Rockwell painting sold at auction at Sotheby’s in Manhattan yesterday for $46 million. This was twice its pre-sale estimate of $15-20 million and a record for a Rockwell painting.
The painting, “Saying Grace”, was one of seven Rockwells in the auction. Two other Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers, “The Gossips” and “Walking to Church,” sold for just under $8.5 million and a little over $3.2 million respectively.
These three paintings were formerly on long-term loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They were sold by descendants of Kenneth J. Stuart, the Evening Post art editor who worked with Rockwell for nearly 20 years. All three had been given to Stuart by Rockwell.*
Walking to Church by Norman Rockwell, 1952. You can buy a signed print of this for approximately what Rockwell was paid for painting it, or you could have gotten the original yesterday for about a thousand times his fee (not adjusted for inflation).
Rockwell was paid $3500 for “Saying Grace” in 1951. That translates to roughly $32,000 in today’s dollars. This would be tremendous money for any illustrator today, and shows how highly illustration was valued in mid-century America. However, even adjusted for inflation the sellers got around 1500 times the price Rockwell received for actually painting the thing.
Sadly, if you’re doing your job right as an artist, this is how it goes. This might seem counterintuitive when considering such a popular artist as Rockwell. But even during the Golden Age of Illustration, few people considered illustrators to be fine artists. It’s taken time and distance for us to see Rockwell, Howard Pyle, or N.C. Wyeth as the great artists they were. But consider John James Audubon, William Blake, or Albrecht Durer. Their work, too, has become more rarified by time, but they were also, fundamentally, illustrators.
The Gossips by Norman Rockwell, 1948
At any rate, the few hundreds or thousands you get for your work today will, if all goes as planned, translate into a fortune in some future swank showroom in, say, Abu Dhabi or Macau.
*Having done my share of illustration, this seems like a squishy provenance to me. It’s just as likely that the work got shoved behind a cabinet and forgotten, and Stuart had the good sense to take it home rather than let it be thrown away.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!


Me, working again. What a relief.

Any artist who tells you they have never suffered from creative paralysis is a liar. In my case, this is often the first step of a major series of work. It takes the form of extreme anxiety, where I can’t even walk through my studio doors. My solution is usually to approach the project sideways. I do little studies until I regain my nerve.

That would have been my normal approach last month, as I cleared the decks to work on a major show next spring. But what would have been a temporary state has been outrun by the events in my personal life.
This morning, I enter the maw of modern medicine again in the form of a pre-surgical meeting for a recently-diagnosed cancer. I’m not overly worried about the long-term outcome, but recovering from my last surgery has been awful for my work habits.
Why do people seek out psychics? Actually watching fate bearing down on us is an awe-inspiring and terrible thing. This month, two people dear to me moved through the final stages of death. I was useless for anything other than the most habitual tasks. I felt as if the circuits of the heavens were opened up, and I could do nothing except stare.
One built, eight more to go. But that’s progress.
I suppose I could have handled my physical recovery, my loved ones’ deaths, or the anxiety of a new project separately, but the combination of the three was too much.
Ultimately, I used others—most notably, my husband and my assistant Sandy—as emotional battering rams. With their support, I was able to get back to work. It’s a funny thing about painting: it’s essentially a solitary act that is also a form of communication to the world. And death is a solitary act that is also universal; nobody escapes it.
Each time we artists stumble and fall, we think, “It’s all over now. I’m ruined; I can’t meet my commitments.” I was well into that mantra of self-condemnation until I recollected that I’ve banked a lot of hard work over the prior year. If I don’t sell another thing in 2013 (and since I’m about to have another surgery, I doubt I will) it’s still the best year I’ve had since 2008.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

John Constable, master of plein air

Reverse of Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead, oil on canvas by John Constable, about.1821-22. Recently discovered during relining at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
As everyone knows, the Barbizon and Impressionist painters invented plein air painting—except, of course, that they didn’t.
An Italian trip had long been a requisite of study for the best European painters. They went to study the masters of the Italian Renaissance, but also to draw and paint the artifacts of Imperial Rome littering the Italian landscape.
Among the values acquired in these southern trips was the idea that color was as important as line. This freed painters from a strict drawing-values-color methodology, which in turn got them out of the studio and into the fresh air. By the eighteenth century, oil sketching was widespread throughout Europe. There is a long list of painters who worked outdoors long before the practice was dignified with a name.
Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, John Constable, 1827. Don’t you wish you’d painted that?
One of the finest was John Constable. Recently the Victoria & Albert Museum announced the discovery of a Constable sketch in the lining of his Branch Hill Pond: Hampstead. The latter painting was being cleaned and relined in anticipation of a blockbuster Constable show scheduled for next fall.
Given that the V&A already owned an impressive collection of Constable sketches, I’m saving my pennies to go. (These sketches are published in John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum.)
Hampstead Stormy Sky,1814, John Constable
Constable worked en plein air from his youth forward. His sketches are as free and fresh as those of any 21st century master, which should humble those of us for whom freshness is the only virtue in painting.
Most of his field brushwork is thin and dry, with a few points of impasto in the foliage or sky. (These spots are frequently flattened in his surviving canvases; Constable, like the rest of us, stacked his field canvases while wet.) He worked on tinted grounds ranging from brown to reddish-brown to pink. He allowed that color to show through as part of his work, and carried that technique into his studio paintings.
Weymouth Bay, with Jordan Hill, 1816, John Constable.
Constable used these sketches for color references, to record cloud formations and their patterns of light and shade, and to record the details of different species of trees. He often noted the location, the date and time, and the wind conditions on the back of his canvas. From this we know that many of these sketches were completed very quickly, often in the space of an hour.
Stonehenge, 1835, John Constable. Watercolor on paper.
At the end of his career, Constable abandoned oil sketching for watercolor, due in part to the privations of age and in part from an appreciation of watercolor’s spontaneity. Constable’s late studio paintings were criticized for “scattering his lights about in a manner that deprives it of repose, and renders it almost painful for the eye to look upon.” (Wilton) That increased reliance on white in his oils may have been related to his increased use of watercolor as a sketch medium. But it also put him squarely on-trend with what would follow, something his critics missed entirely.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!


One of Alexey Kljatov’s exquisite snowflake photos.
Albrecht Durer was renowned for his skill in painting detail. There’s a legend that he was once asked by the artist Giovanni Bellini for the brushes with which he painted hair. Durer handed Bellini an unremarkable brush. ‘I do not mean this, I mean the brushes you use to paint several hairs with one touch,’ Bellini answered. Durer proceeded to demonstrate that it was all in the technique, not the tool.
A still life by Alexey Kljatov. He moves a flashlight around and then meshes images in Photoshop to make this effect.
Macro photos of snowflakes popped up all over my newsfeed last month. These were shot by one Alexey Kljatov. Evidently, in Moscow when you decide to take up macro photography you don’t run down to 42ndStreet Photo and drop a grand or more on a new camera with interchangeable lenses. You buy a used Russian-made lens from an old film camera (currently available on ebay for about $25) and tape it to your decidedly down-range Canon Powershot, using a chunk of wood as a stabilizer and a black garbage bag to keep out light.
That’s an old Russian-made SLR lens taped to an ‘extension bellows’ taped to a Canon Powershot, all stabilized with a piece of wood.
Kljatov’s snowflakes are detailed, luminous, and, most of all, fascinating. A similar hack he did to take telescopic shots of the moon rendered weirdly wavery but inviting images of our planet’s closet friend. When he’s not outside freezing, Kljatov does a series of layered still lifes using a handheld flashlight and lots of hours on his computer.
The moon, shot by Alexey Kljatov. In this instance, he used rubber bands to affix a telephoto lens to his Canon Powershot.
Kljatov’s camera is a 2007-vintage, mid-range Canon Powershot. In fat, sassy America, those cameras (if they’re still around) are used for nothing more than shooting snapshots of the passing scene.
Every once in a while I stop at my local art store to ponder the locked case of $250 watercolor brushes by the counter. Is it really necessary to spend so much money in pursuit of creativity? Or is creativity to be found in the exact opposite of such luxury?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Some words of advice for the young artist

Last week I wrote about a young art school graduate’s struggles to make a career. In response, some of my successful artist friends have offered him advice.
Brad Marshall
Brad Marshall is represented by the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan and has been featured in American Artist. He says:
Patience is required for success in art. It is rare to come out of art school and meet success right away. I struggled as an illustrator for about 8 years, taken various supplemental jobs along the way. I eventually found a good job as a billboard painter. It was another 12 years before my spare-time fine art led me to get a gallery. Living in an active artist’s community like Asheville is a good start. The support and fraternity of other artists should not be underestimated.
Just keep doing art. You can always find a corner of your home to set up an art table. It might restrict the size you work in, but shouldn’t keep you from your art.
Amy Digi
Amy Digi is a member of the United States Coast Guard Artist Program and has pictures in their permanent collection. She has shown extensively in the greater New York area and elsewhere. She says:
There has been a major change in the history of art called the Internet, which has never been exploited before—so take advantage of it!!
Find all free sites. There are hundreds but the basics are Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. Most importantly, do not use these for personal information, but just business, like pictures of your art work. Buyers want to know you are not a Sunday painter.
Open a Paypal account so that after people look at your work they can purchase it easily. Paypal is free to set up, but they take a small percentage of each sale.
Make an appointment with a Small Business Administration (SBA) office and have them help you set up your business accounts. Once you sell work, you are a partner with your state, and they want their tax money.
I have a lot of sales and get interviewed from people solely from the Internet.
Michael Chesley Johnson
Michael ChesleyJohnson teaches workshops in New Brunswick and Sedona, Arizona. He is a contributing editor for The Artist’s Magazine and the author of many books and videos on plein air painting. He says:
Here are some words of advice:  Don’t let your feelings get hurt, and learn to roll with the punches.  Get some practical knowledge by finding a local ‘business’ art mentor who can teach a little about running a business, especially the marketing part.  Don’t just do art, but eagerly look to see what other artists are doing to make a living.   But above all, be true to yourself – the money will follow.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!