If you get into every show you apply to, you’re not reaching. If you don’t get into any, you need to reassess your process.
Jonathan Submarining is one of my favorite plein air paintings, because of the difficulty in capturing the sailing class on a windy day in Penobscot Bay.

We all know the feeling of not getting into a show we really wanted. It’s really disheartening, especially when you compare your work with that of the accepted painters. I recently discovered something almost as bad: when your friend doesn’t get into a show you were accepted into. I suspect it’s even worse from the friend’s side.

We all know we shouldn’t take it personally, but I don’t know anyone who can do that all the time. Of course we’re going to personalize rejection; that’s only human. But it helps to be businesslike about it. When a business’ bid is rejected, they do not sulk. They lay the groundwork to succeed the next time.
We long to understand what goes on behind the curtain, and sometimes our conclusions are flat-out wrong. A fellow artist recently commented about a show I’ve done since its inception, saying that I was ‘guaranteed a place for life.’ I know the organizers are committed to changing up the talent, and that show is anything but a sinecure. I sweat bullets every year.
Red Truck at Lumber Yard is another favorite that I don’t think translated well into a submission.
An invitational show I’ve done for many years has a ruthless process: they tot up sales and cull the bottom quarter of performers. That may seem heartless, but it does raise the bar.
When you apply to a show, you know the overt criteria; they’re spelled out for you. You don’t know the covert criteria, like demographics. Then there’s the question of style. You ought be able to see if you’re a good fit by looking at the judge’s own work, but that is no guarantee. No good juror picks only painters whose work looks like his or hers.
Dyce Head in the early morning light works as a painting, but are lighthouses a no-no with the cognoscenti? 
Then there is the question of collegiality. Yes, people are biased to like their friends. The best shows are juried at arm’s length, by a juror from another region. But that’s expensive. Sometimes it works for a small show to invite artists they know and like and who they know can sell.
We artists are terrible judges of our own work. I tend to like the paintings that were the greatest challenge or struggle to create. These are usually not the most aesthetically pleasing. The more anxious we are to ‘make an impression’ with our entries, the more our judgment is fouled. I’ve illustrated this post with four paintings that have been rejected by jurors.
There are times when we’re making radical changes to our technique. I’ve found that during those periods, I’m less likely to get into shows than when I’m coasting along doing what I know. Since growth is an important part of art, the last thing you should do is try to retard it. Instead, be patient with the temporary check on your career. It will resolve itself. I once took an entire year off from showing just because I didn’t understand the work I was creating. It was a great move.
Fish Beach is another painting I love but jurors haven’t..
It helps to have a friend you trust with whom you can discuss your submissions. If you keep track of what paintings you submit where, you’re sitting on your own data mine. Compare your successful applications to your failures and see if you can find a pattern. I’ll be interested to hear what you find.

Pulled in two directions

If you doubt the adage “time and tide wait for no man,” take up painting boats.

Late Winter at the Shipyard, unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday I was in Home Depot picking up a cabinet when I noticed a bin of ClosetMaidTie and Belt Racks. I ran to my car, got a few painting panels, and fitted them in the hooks. Voila! An easy, fast, and available panel drying system that takes up a fraction of the space of the system I’m currently using. They’re $7.98 each, and my local store had lots of them. One rack holds a dozen paintings. I’m stopping for more today.

Easily available, small, light and cheap. Each one holds a dozen paintings.

I paint everything smaller than 20X24 on canvas panels. They are stable, easy to transport, and less prone to go airborne than stretched canvas. The professional needs to ask whether they are made to archival standards and whether they will warp in extreme conditions. After that, it’s just a question of how much tooth (texture and absorbency) you like.  Any good board costs an arm and a leg. If you’re making work to sell, you should be prepared to pay. Art buyers should ask what substrate work is painted on. Think of it as a warranty question. (I use Raymar, which is just one of several good brands.)

There is no way I could have done my Canada tripusing stretched canvas. The newest paintings were in PanelPak carriers. When they reached the tacky phase, I moved them to pizza boxes. When they were surface-dry, I bound them together with waxed-paper spacers and put them in a plastic tub. In this way, more than forty paintings made it back to Rockport with almost no surface damage.
There are more than 50 paintings in the dry phase in my studio right now. They take up a lot of room.
Here, however, they needed to dry thoroughly, and once dry, get their final matte varnish coating. That means they’ve been taking up a lot of space in my studio. Since my classes start Tuesday, I don’t have time to order a set of drying rails, as nice a product as they are. The tie racks were perfect.
It’s finally dawning clear this morning. That figures, since my day is bookended with meetings.  I need to finish my painting of the Jacob Pike before she floats out on the tide on Friday or Saturday. If you doubt the adage “time and tide wait for no man,” take up painting boats. The tide is an inexorable mistress, as is the fitting out schedule in the boatyard. On the other hand, there’s the equal and opposing need to finish preparing my studio for classes.
Here’s another angle I’d love to paint, but I’d be in the way.
I’ve got the boat pretty accurately limned out. It’s the boatyard that’s not finished. Of course, the star of this painting is the Little Giant crane in the background.  It was moved since I started this painting last week. Captain Doug Lee offered to put it back where it was, but I kind of like the hook dangling over the boat. I asked him to leave it.
I might get to sneak an hour or so over there today. If I don’t, I can finish the background without the boat. These things have a way of working themselves out.

Working from home: the pros and cons

My last studio was neater than my current one. I wonder why.
I’ve had studios in my home and in a commercial space. Neither is inherently better. It’s just a question of what works best for you. 
Sometimes the decision requires no thought. If there’s no room in your house, a rented studio space is probably cheaper than moving. I started painting professionally in a corner of my kitchen. In some ways that was the most pleasant workspace I ever had, since it was light and bright and I could easily keep an eye on the kids. But it didn’t take long to outgrow.
The Hungerford Building in Rochester is a mixed-use building that is home to more than a hundred working artists. I had a studio there long before it had a First Friday event, but it was still open to the public. My workspace was large, with high ceilings, ample north-facing windows and good parking. I met many fine artists there. There were, of course, all the usual amenities.
On the other hand, some residents were careless with the security codes. That meant that the building was never truly secure. It was in a marginal neighborhood. I soon realized that it wasn’t safe after dark.  At the time, working at night was a necessity. I had young children who shortened my daylight work options considerably.
There was also the question of access. I was doing art festivals and fairs. My studio was on the fourth floor. This was accessible by freight elevator, but there was still a lot of trundling before I got my work, my booth and my tent down to the commercial loading dock. That freight elevator was the only option for visitors, too. It was cumbersome and hard to use.
There was also the rent, which added about $6000 a year to my fixed costs.
One of the downsides of a home studio is that you will end up storing paintings everywhere. This is the bedroom in our former home.
We bought our current house for the studio. This is my fourth home-based workspace. My husband works from home too, so in some ways you could describe this house as a large atelier with attached living quarters. It’s on Route 1, which is Maine’s commercial drag, and it has a small parking lot.
Owning my workspace is a financial advantage in the same way as home ownership. It also gives me greater flexibility in how I use the space. I can work whenever I want. There’s a nice kitchen. There’s a backup server and a good computer network. I can bring the elderly Jack Russell terrier to work with me. And of course, there’s no commute.
There is, of course, a downside: distraction.
“After each big painting I usually clean my studio before starting another painting. I got as far as dumping the dirty water,” Christine Waara wrote yesterday. “While dumping water in the laundry room I started doing laundry. While gathering laundry, I came across some letters I’ve been meaning to answer. Went to find some note cards to answer the letters and saw that the dehumidifier was full. Dumped the dehumidifier and… squirrel!”
Your kids will wander in and out of your home-based workspace. That’s usually a good thing.
I have a few tricks to manage my transition from hausfrau to artist. I leave my next piece on my easel, to remember where I’m going and what I was thinking about. I work regular hours whenever I can. Human beings are programmed for routine. Our brains settle down faster when we use them the same way at the same time every day.
Home-based workers end up being the gophers for our families, because our schedules are flexible. People stop by because they think we’re ‘free.’ But, overall, I think there is less of this than in a communal workspace, which sometimes suffer from excessive conviviality. And I never have meetings. The dog can’t talk.

Courting dementia

By Carol L. Douglas

Since I was a young woman, people have debated whether there’s a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum in cookware and in antiperspirant were both singled out as possible triggers for dementia. Recently, a reader sent me a link to a story that screamed: “Doctors Now Have Warning: If You Use Aluminum Foil, Stop It or Face Deadly Consequences.”

I have no comment on the food safety of aluminum foil, although I doubt that Faithpanda.com is peer-reviewed. My Dear Reader sent it to me because she knows that when online political conversations get too stupid, I put on a virtual aluminum hat to block the signals.
This sometimes takes the form of a small still life I did several years ago, above. When I can’t make time to paint, I do these small paintings to keep my mind and hands limber. They never take more than an hour. They’re just intended for my personal amusement.
By Carol L. Douglas
This week, I can’t even paint still lives. The days are getting longer, which means it will soon be time to go outside to paint. But looming over every March day, like a great black blot on the landscape, is our income tax return.
“In bouillabaisse you are likely to find almost anything, from a nautical gentleman’s sea-boots to a small China mug engraved with the legend ‘un cadeau de Deauville,’” wrote PG Wodehouse, and the same is true of our tax code. And just like Bertie Wooster faced with that soup, we shrink from stirring it.
“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” is a quote from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. It came from a legal decision written in 1927, and it’s inscribed over the door of IRS headquarters. Holmes was born in 1841 and served in the Civil War. I doubt he’d recognize much about the modern tax code.
By Carol L. Douglas
I doubt he’d be able to even file it. About 56% of American taxpayers rely on paid preparers to do their return. Another 34% use tax preparation software, making a total of 90% of taxpayers who seek some form of help. Revenues for the tax preparation industry (the people, not the software) are around $10 billion a year. That’s because nobody who’s not a trained preparer can understand the tax code.
I do not mind paying my taxes, but I do mind the endless record-keeping necessary to keep from paying too much. I mind the occasional midyear summonses to explain myself, and I especially mind the fact that I get to pay income tax in more than one state.
At any rate, as you probably already suspect, there won’t be much painting done this week in my studio. If you want me, I’ll be at the dining room table, courting dementia.

How not to pack for a painting trip

I love travel but loathe packing. My clothes take me fifteen minutes or so, as one pair of paint-stained clamdiggers is interchangeable with any other. It’s the tools, paints and supplies that require thought.  I always print out my student supply list as a starting point. (You can find a copy here.)
I had unexpected company on the weekend. That meant I was even less prepared than usual. Still, with list in hand, I was unlikely to forget anything useful.
I’m on my way to Freeport in the Bahamas to paint with Joelle Feldman and Bobbi Heath. I felt good about my packing job until I saw theirs. Bobbi also works from a list, but hers is separated into “checked luggage” and “carry on.” Bobbi’s painting kit was lost en route to Brittany last year and not recovered until long after she got home. She has learned the painful lesson that some things shouldn’t be checked.
Less attention to my pedicure, more to packing would have helped.
Recently, one of my students arrived at the airport with a new 150 ml tube of paint in her carry-on bag. “Everyone knows you can’t do that,” we think. You’d be surprised at the mistakes you can make if you’re rushed or tired. Mercifully, it was just titanium white instead of a more expensive pigment.
Bearing that in mind, I carefully tucked my paints into my checked luggage. My tools and easel I kept in my carry-on. They are the priciest part of my kit and would be the hardest to replace on the road.
Joelle is a pastel painter. Her entire kit and clothing fit into a carry-on bag. That’s partly because she’s very efficient. Her clothes were vacuum-packed. Bobbi and I have the excuse of being oil painters to explain our extra luggage. We’d also been advised to bring toilet paper and paper towels with us, so our bags were fluffier than normal.
You really packed a half-empty bottle of plonk, Carol?
The first intimation that I might have done a bad job packing came last night when I realized I’d tucked my umbrella into my kit. It’s cumbersome and I never bring it on the road if I can help it. There was no going back, so it is heading to the Bahamas with me. This morning I noticed an odd shape sticking out of my suitcase. Investigating, I found a half-finished bottle of wine. It has been in my luggage since I returned from Canada in October.
Bobbi’s suitcase was far more orderly than mine.
Even we couldn’t face stale red wine before 6 AM. So I rinsed my hair with it.
But my real painting advice for the day is to make sure you put your palette knives, scraper and Leatherman tool in your checked luggage, not your carry-on. The alternative—replacing them or paying for another checked bag—are both expensive, as I now know.
Looking for packing advice? You should probably ask Bobbi or Joelle.

Seeking a new gallery

"Hazy mountain afternoon: Keuka Lake," by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.

“Hazy mountain afternoon: Keuka Lake,” by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.
Yesterday, Sue Baines from the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston picked up eight of my works, with another half-dozen or so headed there next week. I’ve noted this gallery since it opened, since it’s on my way to Spruce Head. It stands off neat and proud against its setting near the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. Being noticeable is a good first sign.
I’m in the process of searching out new gallery representation, and the Kelpie Gallery was the first place I approached. It started with a visit, obviously.
"Overlook," by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.

“Overlook,” by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.
The Kelpie Gallery hosted the Third Annual Paint Along the Weskeag in August, which gave me an opportunity to spend some time there unattended. I was looking for professionalism in grouping and displaying paintings. This doesn’t always mean lots of white space—it depends on the real estate—but it does mean that the gallerist is thoughtful in matching work thematically and in color relationships.
I wasn’t looking for other artists who paint like me. I wanted to see artists whose work is concerned with the issues I find compelling—the light, feel and architecture of the landscape. It is important to me, also, that they be contemporary in outlook. There is nothing inherently wrong with following the Old Masters, but a gallerist who focuses on that won’t really understand my work.
"Monhegan Lane," by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.

“Monhegan Lane,” by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.
When you show in a place that’s not philosophically attuned to what you’re doing, you won’t sell. Worse, your work subconsciously responds to their group norms. The biggest difficulty I ever face is getting into the wrong group of artists and trying to live up to their standards. It never works.
I asked how many artists the gallery represents. If you’re one of too many, your work is likely to languish in a back corner somewhere. “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member,” Groucho Marx famously said, and there’s some sad truth to that. If it’s too easy to join up, they may be less than selective. Luckily, that isn’t the case here.
"Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove," by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.

“Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove,” by Carol L. Douglas. Available through the Kelpie Gallery.
A good gallerist spends a long time looking at your work and takes only a select few. Watching them sort through my work is my favorite part of the process, by the way. Often they will choose works that I find unresolved. That tells me something about where I’m headed as a painter.

Be reasonable

Sugaring Off, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, 1944. In some of her winter scenes, she achieves a Bruegelesque quality, perhaps in part because of the flat lighting.
I was outlining my next six months’ schedule to my friend Berna, and she asked, “And you are painting when?” It’s a thought that’s occurred to me more than once this year.
I took a workshop on the business of art. The instructor told us we should be spending half our time marketing. I think it’s more accurate to say that I spend a third of my time marketing, a third painting, and a third on overhead. After all, I’m not wealthy enough to pay someone else to do my bookkeeping, and management takes time. 
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses with two of her children. After working as a farmhand and maid, she married at age 27 and gave birth to ten children, five of whom survived past infancy. Oddly enough, she didn’t have time to paint at this stage in her life.
Even if I could magically stretch out the work week to be 120 hours long, I wouldn’t have the energy for it. Fifty may be the new forty, but my joints haven’t gotten the message.
A sixty-something recently asked me how to start an art career. She’s been a wife, a mother, and a musician, and she recently earned her BFA. I’m the last person to rain on someone else’s dreams, but she’s going to be competing against youngsters with limitless energy. To succeed, she’s going to need to husband her resources.
Hoosick Falls, New York, in Winter, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, 1944. She was 84 when she painted this.
Yesterday I had three jobs blocked out: to wrap five bundles of stretcher bars, to deal with a small pile of paperwork for my trip to Maine next week, and to paint. The stretcher bars stretched out into early afternoon, and the ‘small’ pile of paperwork morphed into a bigger mess. I looked at the clock and it was 5 PM and I’d never lifted a brush.
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses.
Oh, well. I suppose it’s better to be overly ambitious than to be too easily pleased.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

It’s tax season

Plein air painters drive around until they find what they want to paint, and then they stop and paint it. That makes absolutely no sense to auditors. This is my dearly-missed painting pal, Marilyn Feinberg, in Naples, New York.
I get a “how to succeed in art” newsletter. A few weeks ago, they sent a sample schedule out. It included time for making and marketing, but no allowances were made for recordkeeping.
I love the time I spend zooming around from plein air event to plein air event in my elderly Prius. However, summer generates not only revenue but receipts. Eventually they all have to be entered in my books.
A scene on the same road, above. They don’t magically happen; you have to look for them.
Some people do that as they go; I prefer to collect a stack of papers and curse at them in March. Not only do I do my income tax and sales tax returns, I also look at our investments and determine if they need to be redeployed. At the end of this, I clear out and reorganize my files, which is why Easter is the one meal we’re able to have at our dining room table.
There was a time when we had a single, standard currency. Although our financial system is pegged to the dollar, we now use credit cards and EFTs more than we use cash. That’s convenient, but it means that we must check credit card statements, Paypal, Amazon, bank statements, EZ pass records, and cash receipts.
A recent tax ruling involving artist Susan Crile validates the idea that artists regularly lose money in the pursuit of future success. This is only fair, since the IRS eagerly taxes those of us whose ship has come in.  But before you can deduct your expenses, you must keep track of them. It’s persnickety business.
And you don’t get beautiful paintings without generating a rather ugly stack of receipts.
 “I don’t have a destination,” I once told an IRS auditor. “I drive until I find a view to paint, and then I stop and I paint it.” She couldn’t find a reason to disallow that on the spot, but she warned me that my future mileage logs better include destinations. Now my GPS unit logs my mileage—as longitude and latitude points, which are converted into addresses with software my husband wrote for me.
But most people don’t have a software guru at home, nor should making a living be such an exercise in appeasing government inspectors. I spend about a hundred hours a year on record-keeping to satisfy the IRS. How does that advance art, or advance the American economy?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

This hasn’t been one of my better days

Usually making frames is my happy place. Not yesterday. This beautiful and perfect gilded frame? I mis-measured the painting.
In my father’s later years, he was a sad guy. Every evening he would say, “This hasn’t been one of my better days.” My husband and I both tend to run on an even keel, but when one of us has had a bad day, we find ourselves telling the other, “this hasn’t been one of my better days.” That’s both a private joke and a reminder that we are, in the bigger picture, blessed in ways my father couldn’t imagine.
Having said that, yesterday was not one of my better days. It started with the tedious business of cleaning and wrapping paintings to go to RIT-NTID’s Dyer Art Center. (I clean every painting with Winsor & Newton’s Artists’ Picture Cleaner before it’s shown.) From there I went into my shop to make frames.

Wrapping and tagging paintings is part of the glamour work of an artist. Mostly for local moving, you worry about the corners.
I love making frames almost as much as I love painting, but yesterday I mangled everything I touched. I made a perfect frame out of some luscious gilded stock, only to realize I’d mis-measured the painting. I had some lovely gunmetal frame stock I’d used for previous figure shows, and I cut a frame for my 36X60 nude and glued it, only to discover that I didn’t have a clamp large enough for it. I ran to the hardware store, which was out of the screws I needed, and ran home with mending brackets, with which I supported and reglued it. Frankly, it looks pretty bad.
Why am I messing up left and right? I want to go to Massachusetts to see my daughter this weekend and if I’m not done prepping for this show, I have to stay home. When I mix family and work, the ante rises fast. I don’t have a solution to this problem, nor would I want to. We should care more about our family than our work.
Then there are those lucky few paintings which have their own fitted packing crates. Those are usually paintings that travel a bit.
Meanwhile, my husband (he’s a programmer) went back to his office at 8:30 PM because he has a project that isn’t working and he also wants to go visit our kid. Some times, you just have to keep your head down and weather the storm.

I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

More on this elusive business of success

Success to the artist means making time to make art. All the rest is just details.
Yesterday I wrote about three techniques for success. A reader asked, “Do you actually keep a planner with your schedule blocked out? Or have you just worked your way into a routine? It’s hard when everyone else’s schedules are so fluid.”
I worked my way into this schedule gradually, so it’s not written down. But I do understand about being answerable to other people’s schedules. It’s part of working from home, and part of being a parent. I just try to shake the interruptions off and get back to what I was doing as quickly as possible. After all, if I were in a corporate setting, I’d be interrupted all the time for meetings.
In part, it means persevering even when everything is going wrong.
It helps if you understand exactly what your goals are. People with dependent kids or parents are actually working two jobs at once. To pretend you can work eight hours a day at art when you have a toddler helping is unreasonable, but you should be able to work some time every day. Keep that chain unbroken.
The point of being self-employed is that you can set your own goals. For example, to scamper over rocks at my advanced age, I must keep fit. So I spend several hours a day exercising. For a younger person, that would be a ridiculous priority.
Success—for an artist—means organizing your life so you can make art. Everything else flows from there.

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