Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Change is hard. Embrace it.

At the End of the Rainbow, oil on canvasboard, 16X20, $2029 framed.

This weekend, I received a frame back from a gallery, unwrapped, battered and bruised. Some galleries treat artists’ work with shocking disrespect, so there’s no news there. However, it’s a large, expensive frame and there’s coffee splattered all over the linen fillet, as if it was stood in a corner during a party for the other, more popular paintings. That just adds insult to injury.

“What’s the point of galleries, anyway?” I grumbled. That’s a question I’m asking myself more and more. The internet and COVID have expedited shifts in the art market that are, I’m afraid, permanent. I can either roll with them or whine that everything is changing.

The Late Bus, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light, is a line by Dylan Thomas that was part of every schoolchild’s repertoire in my youth. Along with Invictus, it was just about the worst advice ever.

The truth threads a narrow line between those two poems. We’re not the masters of our own fate, and raging against change is a fatal misdirection of our energy.

Meanwhile I need that painting for a show that I’m hanging this weekend. I’ve taken the frame apart, sprayed the fillet with hydrogen peroxide, and will start the laborious business of repairing the corners this morning, if it’s possible.

Red bud and Red Osier, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1449 framed.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen is one of the great lies we all labor under. Many people get stuck in it. Sadly, the troubles we’ve seen—disrespect, death, abandonment, duplicity, hypocrisy—are horribly common.

“But you don’t understand!” the soul cries out. “It’s worse because it’s happening to me!”

We humans love to discuss our injuries, hurts and losses. We take them out, caress and feed them, and then wonder why they grow. We especially like to convert our hurt into anger, because grief is enervating and anger at least feels alive.

Best Buds, 11X14, $1087 framed.

I had a potential exposure to COVID and have to quarantine until tested. I’m vaccinated and unlikely to get sick (although I can be a carrier), so it’s an inconvenience and I’m getting the test as a courtesy to others. That’s something to be profoundly grateful for, because until very recently, the potential implications were far more dire. COVID has hit me hard and personal, so I know of what I speak.

“I’m so mad at anti-vaxxers,” a family member texted. What’s the point, I asked. Anger just sows division. And if and when we ever get around to solving our soul problems, it adds another layer that must be unpicked.

Meanwhile, I chatted with the charming lady who sold us our new dishwasher and stove. “You already know this,” she said, “but every place is having trouble getting good help these days. I’m working six days a week because I’m the only person in this department.”

On Monday, I made oatmeal on a borrowed hot plate. “Do. Not. Talk. To. Me,” I told Doug and the dog, because I had to concentrate. By Tuesday, the hot plate and I were old friends. Change is hard, but we have no choice but to embrace it.

Let’s get serious, not

The important thing is not whether you’re painting well or badly, but that you’re painting.

Sunset near Clark’s Island, oil on canvasboard, $652 framed.

Yesterday I was with my plein air students looking at the schooner Heron in Rockport harbor. “If I were being serious about this painting…” I started, and then listened to myself. There’s a curious bifurcation among professional painters. We’re at once completely serious and yet—for many of us—total goofballs.

I’m not just speaking about myself; I’ve painted in a lot of events, with a lot of very fine artists. Often, the casual observer would never believe we’re actually working (which may be why we get so many snarky comments from passers-by). We don’t appear to be taking our work at all seriously. That’s self-preservation when so often things go wrong, and it gives us the freedom to experiment. One can’t deviate from the tried-and-true without joie de vivre.

Friendship, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $696 unframed.

Of course, we all know That One Artist who firmly believes that he (it’s always a he) is a very important personage in art history. It’s easy to see how selling one’s work can subtly morph into an oversized ego. (If I ever start believing my own press, just take me out back and shoot me.)

But most of us are pretty laid back. Of course, our goofiness is earned. It rests on thousands of hours of experience and a rock-hard certainty about technique and method. It’s hard to be larky when things aren’t going right.

Jack Pine, 8X10, oil on prepared birch, $522 unframed.

Transition is (or ought to be) a regular part of the artistic experience. It’s the one thing that can suck the joy out of painting. When we’re integrating new ideas into our own work, we hate everything we’re doing, and it just feels like we’ve forgotten how to paint. “I have no idea what I’m doing!” does not inspire happiness.

I’ve learned to set those transitional paintings aside. They’re not going to sell, but they’re important markers along the road. Often, they end up being my favorites, but it takes me a few years to realize that they were guideposts along a new road.

A ten-minute sketch for my students that has some potential to go somewhere, once I pick off the pine needles.

This summer, I’m going out for an hour or two each morning and doing a quick study before I open my gallery at 394 Commercial Street here in Rockport. This is a funny plein air discipline, driven by necessity. It’s not enough time to do a finished painting so my studio is littered with incomplete starts. Sometimes I take them back out to finish them, and sometimes I leave them for a rainy day.

But these plein air studies are so low-calorie that I hardly need to worry if they’re ‘good’ or not. That gives me the freedom to experiment, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. After all, the important thing is not whether we’re painting well or badly, but that we’re painting.

Note: I’m limping along on a borrowed laptop, so all admin tasks are taking a while. That’s slowing down the transition of my blog to my own website.

More time to paint

We shove our painting into narrow windows of opportunity. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

Inlet, oil on canvasboard, 9X12, available at Carol L. Douglas Gallery, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport ME

I’m surrounded by land trust lands and very grateful for them. I hike in them and in some cases actively work to support them. (For example, see Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation.) In my area, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust is the big player. It owns land directly behind my house as well as the beautiful Beech Hill and Erickson Fields Preserves.

This month, someone has taken to dropping limbs and sticks onto a Beech Hill path. I have no idea why. This week, two downed saplings were hung in the trees. After joking about beavers—there aren’t any this high up—I returned to my regular musing on human folly.

The mysterious stick artist started with this. Now the path is completely blocked.

There is a human impulse to ‘decorate’ nature. We build cairns, or in the case of Erickson Fields, put up silly signs about fairies. It’s futile, and it diminishes the woodlands experience. The occasional sign keeping people from falling over a cliff is all that nature needs. It was designed by the Creator, and nothing humans can or will build will ever compare.

It goes without saying—I hope—that this includes lighting fires. We’ve had a very dry spring. The Memorial Day rains were too light to really help. My friend Sarah reports that her well ran dry this week. All it would take is one idiot to create a lot of damage, and we’ve got a lot of out-of-town visitors with more enthusiasm than sense right now.

I’ve been getting up at 5 to walk my dog because of the increase in traffic on the trails. Some mornings are like Grand Central Station up by Beech Nut, the historic folly at the top of Beech Hill.

Beaver Dam, 12X16, oil on canvasboard, available through Carol L. Douglas Gallery, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME

That’s a pleasant time to be out and about, but it makes for a very long day. I write my blog and then try to fit in 2-3 hours of plein air painting. I’ve been amazed at how much I can get done in that short time. Yesterday I limned out a complicated picture of the docks at Port Clyde on a 14X18 canvas. There’s something liberating in knowing I can’t finish.

It helps to do those hours early, because it’s been hotter than a two-dollar pistol this week. We seldom get real heat in Maine. We don’t have air conditioning in our old farmhouse so we’re surrounded by the thrum of fans. It makes communication very interesting, since we can’t hear anything.

Paint pots. I’m far less efficient than a machine, but I know what colors I want in those kits.

The life of a working artist is mostly prosaic, just like any job. I come home and hoist up the walls of my open-air gallery at 394 Commercial Street. Then I concentrate on the back-room stuff involved in selling any product. Yesterday, I sat at my picnic table and filled 160 tiny pots of paint for next week’s boat workshop.

All that is like any other job. The difference is in those 2-3 hours of pure painting every morning. Every painter I know makes the same compromises in order to earn a living. Either we’re teaching or selling or working a second job (which may be homemaking or child care). We fantasize about a time when we can just paint, but I wonder if we’d paint any better if we had all the time in the world.

You want to be a professional artist—are you sure?

Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

Skylarking, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

If I can get my social media specialist to manage the admin, I’m going to do an online workshop on going professional. That means how to sell work, how to present yourself, how to use social media to advertise, and where and when to show. But before you sign up, I want you to consider carefully whether or not you really want to go that route.

My friend Nancy is a retired art teacher and an excellent painter. A few years ago, she asked me how she can sell paintings. Honestly, I can’t believe that the sheer grind of selling will make her happy, when she has so many other things occupying her time: a husband, grandkids, friends, travel. Selling is a tremendous amount of work. And it doesn’t validate the quality of her work—that stands on its own.

Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

I spend at least half my time on marketing. It’s what the experts say you can expect. In addition, I pay someone to do some of my online marketing for me. I’m still always behind. For example, my website is in dire need of updating. The successful painter is first and foremost an entrepreneur, not a painter. You work long hours, have your finger in everything, and nothing is ever finished.

I’ve been painting since I was a child, and I can honestly say that nothing else is closer to my ‘true’ work. However, I spent years avoiding becoming a professional because I didn’t believe I could make a living doing it. I’m happy to have proved myself wrong. But it’s been difficult. I had no models for entrepreneurism. I’ve had to figure it out by trial and error.

Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, available

I’m not sorry I made the transition. Honestly, I don’t have many other marketable skills. However, there’s one thing that’s changed for me. I no longer paint for the pure joy of it, but as part of an effort to create and develop a business.

Does that make me insincere? I don’t think so. Every painting is a communication between the artist and his audience. Sometimes, the way the audience says, “I love it” is by getting out its collective checkbook. Nobody questions that when a musician cuts a best-selling album, but for some reason painters can beat themselves up about selling out.

Jack Pine, by Carol L. Douglas, 8X10, available. 

There are moments in every job that are tremendously rewarding. I didn’t begrudge my doctor his fee because he fist-bumped me when he finally figured out that I had cancer. I love hard work myself. My favorite job after painting was waitressing. Should I not have been paid because I had a good time doing it? That would be nuts. But there is that perception about the arts in general, that we’re having too good a time to justify a paycheck.

The marketplace can be very cruel. Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

To succeed, you need to silence those voices. Instead, just tell yourself, “I have a product, and I’ll test whether there’s a market for it.” As personal as painting is, you’ll suffer if you let the marketplace be a referendum on your inner self.

Necessity is the mother of invention

You might think artists have little to offer when people are concerned about building deep pantries. But the need for comfort, inspiration, and beauty are always there.

Inelegant? Of course. Effective? We’ll see. It’s better than sitting around wringing my hands.

Last winter I made the decision to stay home in Maine and run a gallery out of my studio in Rockport. I bought a full-page ad in the Maine Gallery Guide, devised a schedule of revolving shows, and put up picture hanging rails. Then American retail collapsed.

There’s no foot trade here or anywhere else. On the other hand, all the plein air events I would have done have been canceled or gone virtual. There’s no point in second-guessing my decision. All I can do is keep asking myself what I can do to make viewing art easier for my clients.

Visitors to Maine are now subject to a 14-day quarantine. Retail establishments are just starting to open now, with very stringent rules. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t want people in my studio-gallery. It’s attached to my home.

It’s a work in progress. Today’s task is reworking the ladder sign so it’s more readable.

I never thought I’d be grateful for the years I spent hawking paintings at art festivals, but the experience has sure come in handy. Setting up an outdoor display has been trial-and-error and it isn’t perfect. The awning over our driveway is shorter than my walls, and there’s no way to angle them.

I learned this the hard way. The wind on the coast is ever-present.  Yesterday was very breezy. I set up the walls to see how they’d fare before I put paintings on them. They did just fine—until the art was added. It created a sail. That was an expensive mistake.

Oops.

Today will be another test, because I can’t tell if it’s going to rain or not. With 5000 miles of inlets and coves on the Maine coast, it’s impossible to predict what will happen when moisture-laden clouds cross from land to sea. My tear-down last night took just seven minutes. That’s far faster than I ever managed on the road, because I can just wheel the walls into the garage.

If this works, I might just replace my old festival tent, which I gave away last year.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about Wegmans’ response to COVID-19. Wegmans is my hometown grocery store, now gone superstar.  As a privately-held business, they can react creatively and quickly without having to answer to shareholders. Their response boils down to common sense. They figured out that their customers’ biggest concerns were safety and security. They changed their merchandise to meet those needs. Gone were the gourmet sauces and food tastings; in were ten-pound bags of pasta.

Eventually I realized that the weights on festival tents are to prevent them from going airborne; the problem here is stopping the walls from twisting. Hooking them to the garage solved that.

You might think artists have little to offer in a world where people are concerned about building deep pantries. But the need for comfort, inspiration, and beauty are always there, perhaps never more so than when times are difficult. Our challenge is to figure out those needs and how we can best answer them.

How can we make viewing art a pleasant experience when people can’t get to our galleries? The internet will help, certainly, but we are all hungering for continued personal contact without risk. I’m groping through this just as you are; your ideas and thoughts are, as always, appreciated.

My first painting of January

My recent works have been in shades of white, and that’s sadly not about winter.
A problem hidden behind a wall can upset the most carefully-crafted schedule.

One of the problems with following other artists on social media is that you can really feel out of step. Earlier this week, many artists were posting their “last painting of the decade.” Immediately on the heels of that, many started the Strada January 31-day challenge.

Daily painting exercises are great, especially for plein air painters. When the world is a swirl of grey, it’s sometimes hard to remember why we paint. Here on the 44th parallel, we’re up to about eight hours of daylight right now. The temptation to wrap oneself up in front of the fire and read can be overwhelming.
My last work of 2019. I call this Fifty Shades of White, because it’s difficult to match whites. On the other hand, the new woodstove is a great improvement.
Think of daily painting exercises as playing scales. No matter how excellent your teachers are, you won’t get better if you don’t practice. You stop being anxious about the results and concentrate more on the process.
Routine is not our enemy; in fact, whatever makes you work regularly and most productively should be embraced. That’s the message of the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
As much as I admire the January Strada challenge, I never play. I invariably find myself mired in a big home-repair project at the New Year. I’m done with Christmas, and I’ve had a few weeks without students. I can tear things apart and make a colossal mess, something I can’t do in the summer when the push to produce and sell work is on.
My first painting of January started by pushing things around in my studio. I’m doing it in thirds, and it took all day for me to empty the first third.
In December, we had a new woodstove installed. As often happens, there was a problem hidden in the wall.  That meant plasterwork and an unscheduled repainting of the room.
I’d also planned to paint the floor of my studio. The prior owner and her grandkids had painted flowers on it years ago. It was sweet, but the radiant-heat floor had developed a crack. Its surface was battered with years of hard use—fine for a studio, but not for selling paintings.
Primed and painted and then I toddled off to bed. More of an oyster than a true white, I think.
Most fine-art painters I know are also good wall painters. We know how to use brushes, and are used to prepping substrates. It makes sense to DIY, and we’re lucky to have this useful skill set. But, like everyone else, we have other things we’d rather be doing. For me, that’s more painting, but with a smaller brush.
There’s no dawdling for me this weekend. I’m teaching in here on Tuesday morning. (If you’re interested in joining this local class, there’s information here.) There’s nothing like a deadline to speed things up!

How do we respond to slowing sales?

Overall, the shows I’ve done this summer have been flat, so it’s time to rethink my strategy.

Home Port, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Camden Falls Gallery.
Where is the art market going? This is a question I ask myself every year at this time. It’s more important this year than ever, since my same-event sales have been flat.
I had an interesting conversation with artist Kirk McBride, after an event I’ve been doing for six years seemed to let all the air out of its tires. “I think there are too many plein air festivals,” he said. He may be right. They’re in every town, and the smaller markets can’t support them year after year. That doesn’t mean the model is bad; it means the market needs adjustment.

(An important caveat: an individual show can buck all market trends, and there may be regional differences in how your own shows are going. It requires a lot of input to decipher what’s happening, which is why I’m asking for your comments below.)

But here are some sobering facts from Artsy, collected in 2019:
Adjusted for inflation, the global art market shrank over the last decade. It totaled $67.4 billion in 2018, up from $62 billion in 2008. However, these are nominal figures, not adjusted for inflation. Do that, and we see a market that’s shrunk from $74 billion to $67.4 billion.
To compare, global luxury goods grew healthily. In adjusted dollars, they went from $222 billion to $334 billion in the same time period. In some ways, a Hermès bag is more useful to a person who already has everything. It’s portable, easy to change, and you can store a revolving collection in the space that a painting takes up.
Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, currently on hold.
Over that same decade, the global economy roared, with global domestic product increasing from 3.3% to 5.4%, according to the IMF. That means art sales should have risen. Instead, just the costs of doing business—rent, materials, and time—increased.
I live in a boom market for galleries. Mid-coast Maine—led by Rockland—has been an amazing success. Nationwide, we’re seeing galleries surviving better than small businesses in general. However, we aren’t seeing a lot of new galleries opening. Colin Page’s new gallery in Camden is one of the wonderful exceptions.
I looked into buying an existing gallery earlier this year and walked away. I still might do something similar, but it won’t involve expensive real estate or labor costs. I’m not passionate about selling art, just making it, and that’s not enough to carry a business.
Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, currently on hold.
There’s been a significant change in the model of selling art. We’re no more immune to globalization or to the internet than any other industry. It’s time to face facts: while our educational institutions threw away technique starting in the 1960s, it was always being taught in Asia. Those painters have as much access to the on-line market as do we, and their aesthetic may be closer to what’s wanted today.
“Auction houses are going begging for people to buy antiques and art,” Andrew Lattimore told me last week. “Kids don’t want their parent’s stuff. They want ‘experiences.’”
He’s right, and that impacts artists who sell to the merely well-to-do (vs. the biggest money players, who are buying an entirely different kind of art). The average United States millionaire is 62 years old. Just 1% of millionaires are under the age of 35, and 38% of millionaires are 65 and older. That means that the people with the cash to buy important paintings are of an age to be getting rid of stuff, and their kids don’t want it. Ouch.
Beaver Dam on Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas, available through 

Gallery of the White Plains County Center

Then there are the ethnic patterns of wealth in America. Asian-Americans are the wealthiest Americans, led by people from the Indian sub-continent. Many of these very wealthy Americans are first- or second-generation citizens, so their aesthetic is more attuned to Asia than to traditional American painting.
Is this the death knell for painters like me? Hardly. We need to act as would any other industry in a time of flux. We adapt or die. That means rethinking pricing and reevaluating our sales channels. Perhaps it means a major strategic change in selling.
I’m very interested in your thoughts on the subject. What kind of market did you experience in 2019? What are your experiences with marketing on the internet? Where do you think we should go from here?

We’re all emerging artists

It’s not really a question of labels, but of who can work his way through the shifting sands of market change.
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas
Recently I had the opportunity for a nice chin-wag with a friend. I don’t remember what the subject was, but she told me, “I’m just an emerging artist.”
This is a term that’s annoyed me since it was first coined. Until we’re dead, we’d better be emerging, as part of a process of constant growth. We must restlessly seek better galleries, bigger shows, and more important venues, just as we improve our skills.
But what does that mean to gallerists, who sometimes want to show ‘emerging artists’ and sometimes want to show ‘mid-career’—another meaningless term until we’re dead—or ‘established’ artists? These are terms that are hardening into acceptance, so it behooves us to think about what the people who bandy them around are trying to say.
The terms have nothing to do with age, and everything to do with experience. You may be 15 or fifty, but if you’re just starting out, you’re an emerging artist. You’re working, you’re probably selling, but you haven’t got an inventory of paintings or a settled, consistent practice.
Dinghies, Fish Beach, Monhegan, by Carol L. Douglas
The mid-career artist is someone who’s been doing art for several years, created a body of work, and shown and been recognized. He has had a significant number of solo shows at recognized venues, and been written about in publications. His following is not regional, but national or even global.
A mature artist is one who’s been commodified. His work sells in the secondary market and he has a sales record that supports rising prices.  He is represented in public collections, and by excellent galleries in major metropolitan areas. In short, he is at the pinnacle of career. Sadly, this often means someone with one foot in the grave, as well.
Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas
The problem with these descriptions is that they’re about success, rather than experience. There are factors involved in success that have nothing to do with skill. Just compare the public recognition of Alex Katz and Lois Dodd. Similar pedigrees, similar experiences, similar skills, and yet he’s far more widely recognized than she. And misogyny is justs one factor that comes to play in determining who’s going to be a star.
The art market is just too vast for anyone to categorize painters in this way. Even the greatest landscape painter on the Maine coast or in Santa Fe may mean nothing to a Manhattan dealer who hunts relentlessly for the next enfant terrible to promote. Would he, for example, have a clue who the quiet, reflective Scottish painter James Morrisonis?

Ask the Manhattanite who’s emerging and who’s established, and you’re going to get a far different answer than if you ask in, say, Houston. Meanwhile, regional landscape art—including plein air—sells like mad.

Spring, by Carol L. Douglas
Anyone who’s been selling paintings for a while also recognizes that the whole marketplace is changing rapidly. What happens in the art markets of New York and London is almost completely irrelevant in the decentralized world of painting sales elsewhere, including on the internet. It’s not really a question of who’s emerging or established, and I’d make no business decisions based on what label you think applies to you. Rather, it’s a question of who can work his way through the shifting sands of the current art market.

Monday Morning Art School: how to set up a studio on the cheap

Our ancestors produced masterpieces in badly-lighted, small, cold cramped spaces. You don’t need to spend a fortune to furnish a studio.
The Testrite #500 easel has served me well for many, many years.

I recently got an email about how to set up a studio. After counting about $20,000 in construction and equipment, I laughed and pitched it in the trash. For most new painters, such an expenditure is not justified. Buy expensive easels, taborets, and lighting systems if you can afford them and like pretty things. But never confuse equipment with competence. Nobody ever painted better because he or she had pricey equipment.

When I first started painting professionally, my ‘studio’ was a corner of my kitchen. I had toddlers then, and I worked when I could steal time. The basement was damp and moldy, with occasional freshets of water across the floor. There was simply no room for a dedicated painting space.
Autumn in the Genesee Valley, by Carol L. Douglas. Pastel dust is a bigger environmental concern than oil paint in a small space.
So I threw down a mat to protect the kitchen floor and set up an easel by my son’s high chair. For a taboret, I used an old rolling kitchen cart. I retired it, eventually. Now I’m using a hand-me-down taboret from a retired artist friend. You can buy used rolling kitchen cabinets for $25-50. They’re durable and have storage and a wooden top. The only functional difference between them and the pricey oak cabinets at the art store is that they don’t come with pretty stainless-steel turps cans. Use a coffee can with a coiled wire or pebbles on the bottom. It works just as well.
My teaching studio is furnished with Testrite #500 aluminum easels. They’re less than $100. Mine have survived a few decades of student abuse. When a part gets lost—as they inevitably do—I just buy a replacement online.
Mohawk Valley midnight, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil pastels are less likely to go airborne, and sometimes they’re fun to goof around with.
My own work easel is the Testrite #700, which handles 60” square canvases with no trouble. Anything bigger, I just lean on a wall. I think aluminum easels are great value for money, especially if you’re in a climate with big humidity changes.
The best light source you can have is a north- or east-facing window. If you lack that, you used to have to buy expensive daylight florescent tubes or an Ott Light. Now you can put LED daylight-balanced bulbs in a regular fixture. (These are not appropriate for video, however.)
Just as better lightbulb colors have dropped in price, so have air cleaning systems. I have a $5000 heat-exchanger/filter sitting in a case in my garage. It’s no longer necessary. The introduction of cheap HEPA filter air cleaners made it obsolete. (In general, it’s not the medium but the pigments that are dangerous in art. Worry more about pastel dust than your Gamsol or the vegetable oils in your paints.)
Niagara Falls, by Carol L. Douglas (pastel)
It’s a bad idea to clean your brushes in the kitchen sink. If you don’t have a utility sink, you can make a dry sink. Buy a used sink; our local ReStore always has them. A 5-gallon bucket underneath can catch your drain-water and a 2-liter soda bottle is sufficient to clean most brushes. If that’s too big for your space, be sure to scour your sink carefully after each art cleanup. You don’t want to add pigment to your food.
I use a tie rack, set on its side, as a drying rack for boards and a plate rack for canvases. If a canvas is large enough to need extra support, I simply put a piece of cardboard behind it while it dries.
I bought my flat files used from a printing shop that was going out of business. They’re the one thing that doesn’t have a real-world analog that’s cheaper, but they’re also heavy and take up a lot of real estate. If your collection of papers, etc. is small, you can put it in flat cardboard frame boxes and store it under your bed(s).
Now, to catch my plane!

Do you dread writing an artist’s statement?

The artist’s statement is, unfortunately, not optional.
The float, by Carol L. Douglas. This is my first work out the gate at Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I struggled with the aspect ratio. Is it done? Beats me.

Last week I wrote about getting into galleries. The artist who prompted that post responded, “I would much rather discuss how I feel my work communicates the essence of wilderness and why it’s important to preserve wild places, than trying to convince them that I’m an accomplished painter and would be an asset to their gallery. I’d be much more comfortable discussing the importance of making sure people develop an appreciation for the wild places left on our planet, than the merits of my paintings.”

She’s hit on a topic that most artists (including me) approach with dread: the artist’s statement. I’ve been mulling that over this week, because a residency can be about figuring out where you’re going as much as it is about producing new work.
My Mabef easel may nominally hold a 24×36 canvas, but in practice it’s too heavy. So it’s back to the Gloucester easel for oils.
An artist’s statement can be dull as dishwater or it can hit you between the eyes. My correspondent above is clearly passionate about wilderness; I’d be interested in her work just from the few sentences above.
We want our work to transmit our ideas non-verbally. Still, we are expected to write these statements. Our gallerists and collectors need a starting point for discussion.
Today I move over to Yupo and watercolor paper.
An artist statement generally contains:
  • An overview of one’s ideas;
  • An explanation of materials and process;
  • A personal statement of beliefs/philosophy;
  • A closing statement.

As a plein airpainter, there’s not much I can say about my materials; however, I can talk about my strong preference for painting from life instead of photos.
The first and last sections are great opportunities for pomposity, clichés, sophomoric writing and irrelevant anecdotes. As experienced as I am at writing, I’ve fallen into those traps. I look back on some of my artist’s statements and cringe.
What questions could you address?
  • What compels you in your current work?
  • Why did you make this specific body of work?
  • What are the spiritual, moral, or experiential underpinnings of your work?
  • What do you want your audience to take away from it?
  • How does this work relate to work you’ve done before?
  • Who or what are your inspirations?
  • Is there something unique about your technique?
  • What is your place in art history? How are you building on what’s been done before?
  • Is your painting tied to a specific place, a specific history, or a group of people?
I was so taken by Yupo last month that I ordered twenty full sheets of it. Here’s hoping it works as well in that size.
What points should you avoid?

  • Talking about how much you love art. Everyone does.
  • Quoting famous artists and/or poetry.
  • A minute description of your process, especially when it’s the same as everyone else’s process.
  • Your personal experience, unless it ties in with a greater theme.
  • “My work is interesting because…”
  • Comparing yourself to a famous artist.

Be spare in your prose, direct, and honest. Refer to yourself in the first person, not as ‘the artist.’ And expect to work on it for a while. If you really and truly can’t write, hire someone to help you; the artist’s statement is, unfortunately, not optional.
In practice, I’ve found that I need several different versions of artist statement (which are of course strewn all over my hard drive). There’s the short one for show applications, the longer one for gallerists, and the painfully long one that gets incorporated into press releases.