Sunday, January 11, 2015

Two pieces of advice to new artists

"Strange Dance", Pastel and charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/12/16 by John Terwilliger
When I began as an artist I had a friend who gave me good advice and encouragement about my work.  He always guided my visual growth with keen insight.  But his advice on career goals was as bad as all the other advice I received. He steered me away from galleries so I would not "sell out" and to keep doing diverse work.

In art school we were taught to always search for new things, new ways to see, to handle materials, to create.  This is a good and necessary thing for students but it can end up being detrimental if the student does see through it and focus.  In school if you did more than a couple pieces in a similar style, or the same subject, you ended up getting "talked" to not only by the faculty but other students.   

After I graduated I had a lot of dissimilar work and an attitude of "I've already done that".  Then I started trying to get shows and found everyone wants to see ten or twenty works.  And not surprising they want the works to be thematically and stylistically similar or you will always get rejected.  I had a lot of work that met those goals but they were on large paper 42" wide and up and I did not know how to display them.

Have enough work on hand to put together a Show

Enough works for a show?  What on earth does that mean?  The answer is dependent on the size of your artwork, how it is framed, and how much room is needed between the artwork so they do not interfere/distract from each other.  Some works want to be grouped tightly together in an intimate arrangement and others want to stand alone with plenty of wall between them.

Gallery/show spaces vary widely in size, ceiling height, and lighting.  But in general a 20'x20' space has 80' of linear wall space minus doors and windows.  The 20'x20' number is about what old warehouse posts are spaced at and is just a good mid-range for estimating.   My work is generally on 22"x30" paper matted in black gallery frames, so I put about one piece per four feet of wall.  So in this example assuming no doors or windows I need 20 works.

So ask yourself, "Can I I fill 60 linear feet of wall space with framed artwork?"

Learn how to mat and frame artwork

Your work needs to be presentable for the gallery.  It also needs to be wired and ready to hang.  If you are a painter and use gallery wrap canvas simply paint the sides black install hanging wire and smile.  Otherwise you need to frame the artwork.

Works on paper need to be matted and framed.  And soft pastel work needs to be set back from the glazing material to keep static from drawing your drawing up onto the glass or plexiglass. 

If you half to purchase frames you will need a lot of money.  Several years ago I had a frame shop I was showing at quote my frames for a 22"x30" drawing and it came out to over $300 each.  Simple math would say a show of 20 pictures then is $6,000 for the frames.  Needless to say I build my own frames.

You do not need expensive tools to make frames and to cut mats, you just need a few basics and training to use them.  I use a $50 chop saw to cut my frames (though I do have an $80 trim blade) and a basic mat cutter with a four foot straight edge for matting.

So go forth and create a bunch of artwork and dress it up for showing in public.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Showing in Restaurants, Coffee shops, Salons, etc.

"The Sky is Now Blue", Pastel and charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/04/04,  This drawing was not in the show at Common Roots Cafe.

 I recently had a show at a nice little restaurant in south Minneapolis, Common Roots Cafe.  The cafe is in a wonderful old building with high windows which drench the interior with sunlight in the afternoon.  I expected to sell nothing when I perused the space and determined what I would hang, opting for larger works.  Why is that, you may ask.

At the very basic level it is about venue.  People go to cafes for food and drink as well as ambiance.  But on the purchasing side, they are primarily there for the food.  And the owners/operators of the restaurant need to keep it that way or they will go out of business.  And this leads to the primary objection some artists have to showing in these settings.

Without a dedicated staff actively promoting sales of the artwork, it is most likely no sales will occur and therefore what the cafe owner really wants is free and changing decor.  The argument is that the artist, once again, is taken advantage of.  While there is some truth in that argument it isn't the reason owners want local artists hanging original works in the restaurant.  In fact it would take much less time and effort to simply purchase decor and change it out periodically, like the big chains do.

Most of the independent restaurants want to be, and if successful, are, part of their local community.  And they want a vibrant, stimulating environment for their clientele to enjoy.  This is the exact opposite of fast food setting where the very seating is designed to make you uncomfortable in a short time and the decor is garish clash.  Though fast food owners also want to be part of the community the franchise rules must be followed.

Having rotating art showings can give a restaurant or salon the sort of stimulating local community oriented environment they desire but it is not free or easy.  They have to put time, effort, and dollars into showing original artwork.  At Common Roots I hung the show with an employee, Andy.  We spent several hours hanging artwork and putting up labels.  Andy also spends time going through submissions and communicating with artists, many of whom he told me he was hanging their first show.  This is a real expenditure for the owners that is not directly related to cooking or selling food.

A show is also costly for the artist involved.  I showed 16 22"x30" drawings in gallery frames behind plexiglas.  The quote I received from a professional frame shop was over $350.00 per frame including matting.  This is $5600.00 worth of frames at full retail.  As I know how to build my own frames from raw stock they cost me much less.  My actual cost for this show was minimal as I built 30 frames for a solo show a year earlier. 

As a side note I sold nothing during this show but I did have several very tasty sandwiches and positive comments.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pushing oneself forward or a swift boot to the keister

John Terwilliger, "Radiation", mixed media on hardboard, 14"x11", 2008
Recently I used the above picture to end a post in a forum discussion on internet trolls and rude posting.  The discussion was about critiques and the actual worth of any particular persons comments.  The individual the discussion was revolving around responded to my post by saying I should "push" myself and explore radiation instead of just using such an obvious symbol.  My response was to post four more radiation drawings from a series of Art Trading Cards I did.
John Terwilliger, "A Setting Hazard", colored pencil, 3.5"x2.5", 2009-06-16

For the individual responding this is a "safe" piece and the subject does not push boundaries.  This piece is from a series I was doing on standard safety/hazard symbols.  but the series is really about the material used in making the picture.  The picture above uses an industrial polymer, acrylic paint, as well as the charcoal and eraser debris from my studio floor adhered with spray adhesive.

The series also has experiments with sawdust, dirt, and other textured or colored stuff which could be attached.

John Terwilliger, "Handicap Accessible", mixed media on hardboard, 14"x11", 2009
I used a lot of sawdust in the series because it absorbs fluid pigment.  In "Handicap Accessible" the entire painting is textured with a sawdust and gesso mixture.  Gesso is a primer/base used by artists.  I have used it with sawdust on sculptural elements in the past mixed with sawdust as a filler to give it body and as an adhesive; here it is about the texture.

So when I receive unsolicited critique/advice on a picture should I concern myself?  I usually don't, especially when it seems very off base.  I stopped asking for critique of my work almost as soon as I left college.  I followed my own path while in college and found most critique unhelpful as most students didn't see where I was going.  I learned to listen intently to a few select individuals and my friends.

In college I found out while doing a research grant that the only people who respond to your work are ones with strong feelings towards it.  By respond I do not mean simply saying they like something.  People who really like something will talk about it, discuss what they like.

But more interesting are people who hate the work so much they feel they must rip you a new one.  What in the picture set them off?  This is of course assuming you actually have some talent/skill in your chosen medium.  In my research I used an anonymous questionnaire about the artwork I was presenting in a public space outside the large hall used for beginning psychology, a class of over 1000 students.  Most of the questionnaire responses fell into the I love it gushes or the I hate it I hate you category with a smattering in between.

So I say give me advice, tell me what you think.  I will be cordial.  But don't expect radical changes in my artwork or subject matter based on any one comment good or bad.  But feel free to try and make me explain myself.  Any conversation is better than silence.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Image size and the Internet

John Terwilliger, "In the Shadow of Man", Pastel, chalk, charcoal on paper", 80"x120", 1989
The New York School abstract expressionists new that size matters, and so did the Minimalists who followed them.   Standing in front of one of Jackson Pollacks paintings is an entirely different experience from seeing an illustration online.  If you don't believe me look at Chuck Close's painting Frank at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in gallery G373 online and in person (it is almost always on display).  

In my drawing above you can get a feel of the composition and the general idea of the artwork, but until you are standing next to it, the drawing towering over all except the tallest individuals, you do not get a feel for it.  It definitely does not have the impact or effect or quite possibly the meaning I meant it to have when drawing it.  It is in fact a completely different piece of artwork from the original, just as the the small engravings of paintings from the Renaissance are not the same as the painting depicted.

 In today's digital age an artist is in competition not just with contemporaries, but virtually every artists who ever lived who's art survived the ages.  Want to hang work by Vincent Van Gogh on your walls but don't have a hundred million dollars for an original?  Just by a print of one and frame it.  Whoever owns the rights to an artwork can photograph or scan it and produce for sale high quality (or low quality) prints of the original in almost any size imaginable. 

But most viewing today is online, on a computer monitor, or even a tiny little phone screen.  Most visual art is doomed when reduced to such a tiny and inadequate viewing device.  But the reverse can also be the same.  I have a lot of work drawn at Art Trading Card (ATC) size of 2.5"x3.5".  These works look great when holding them in your hand, but can look crude online when enlarged way beyond the original size.   The following drawing is uploaded at ATC size 72dpi for a total width of 252 pixels (or dots)
John Terwilliger, "Old Crow", Graphite pencil, 2.5"x3.5", 2010-01-30
I like to scan my drawings at 1200+ dpi because I have a printer that outputs well over that resolution.  for reference that ATC size drawing comes out to over 52" wide at the standard internet display resolution of 72 dpi.

The top picture forces you to stand in relation to it and absorb its presence while the lower one is intimate and can be held in the palm of your hand.  Yet here in this blog post they appear about the same size.  Very disquieting for me as an artist knowing this is how most will experience the artwork.  If fact, in both of the artworks shown this is the only way for you to view the actual artwork.  The top piece is rolled up in storage probably to never be displayed publicly in my lifetime, and the bottom one is sold out of state.

Do I miss the sold work?  No, I still have the actual crow skull in my studio; I can draw it again, though it will have less feathers left on it.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Construction Lines

John Terwilliger, "Raining Rings", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/21

A construction line is used in the building industry to insure a straight line for layout and/or cutting.  In the housing trades it is normal to see these as blue chalk lines on lumber etc.  The chalk comes in various colors some of which the manufacturer warns are "permanent" which means they won't wash off and will bleed thru paint and sealers and will stain the substrate.

I started adding construction lines as non sequitur composition elements to my drawings after I began using found/scrap plywood from various home renovation jobs I was on.  These lines were all chalk line blue and I simply drew my picture over them as if they were not there.  As I had previously created works with grids in the background the lines appealed to me from a composition standpoint so I started using them.  Though, I draw the lines in with a straight edge instead of a chalk line and use whatever color suits my fancy.

In my treetop drawings the construction lines can be read as power lines but that is not my intent when drawing them.  For me they are pure abstract forms adding (usually) color to a composition which needs something.  And it is that "something" which is most interesting when creating an artwork as the process, for me, is intuitive. 

The intuitive non verbal part of creating artwork when looking at the piece and knowing it needs something more/less or different is a bi part of the fun.  In the drawing above I drew in the tree and all the branches with the white paper as a background and spray fixed it.  I knew the work was not complete but I did not know what it was going to need. 

So I had lunch and thought about it, and it came into my to place blue rings around the tree.  I was going to do a more clustered background with the rings building up tonal gradation but as I started adding them it became necessary to just put in a thin spattering of rings, like the rain.  When I stood back and stared at the piece it demanded a compliment to the blue so I added the construction lines with the tangent circles.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Significant Form or Imaginary Relevance

John Terwilliger, "Splayed Treetop", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/19
I had a second generation abstract expressionist professor in college named Herman Somberg who used to talk passionately about significant form as all you need in a painting.  I took color theory and beginning painting from him before he retired but never got an answer or even a concrete idea about what significant form in a work of art was.  Significant form was an idea used as the basis for the formalist art theory which was put forward in support of the abstract expressionists.  It was first put forward by Clive Bell  who was an art critic writing in support of abstract art and cubism in his book "Art" from 1914.  If interested his book is available for free from project Gutenberg

The theory states simply that the interrelations of components within the artwork are what matters and it is art if they are "significant" in construction, and content, such as the tree in the picture above, are non-relevant overall as to determining is as art.  Art philosophy, especially analytic philosophy, have discounted this theory based on it's inability to count for bad art, as well as art that requires the content to even exist, such as conceptual art, where frequently there is only content, or thought, and no form.

But the art theories before formalism could not account for abstract art and discounted it is non-art.  It is easy to see why Clive Bell felt the need to put forward a new understanding of art if you have ever stood in front of an early cubist work from Braque and Picasso or paintings by Kandinsky.  These works were not really about the subject matter contained in the painting if you could even determine the subject.  So the critics put forward the new theory as to why what they were doing was not only Art but good and great Art.

If I say the above pictured painting I just finished is indeed not just Art, but Fine Art, what is the significant form?  Is it heavy black charcoal lines smeared around the surface with an eraser?  Is it the tree, the sky, the paper itself?  The theory, and all of the writing around it, offers no real answer.  Significant form could be any of what I listed or something else.  I lean to something else, something imaginary, which is why I could never get an answer, as an artist, to what it is.  In his art philosophy introductory book "Philosophy of Art" Noel Carroll lays out the basics of the formalist theory in a straightforward and positive manner and then refutes it with objections.  He proceeds with this format, posit and refute, with all the current/popular philosophical theories of art.

I imagine my artwork is good, therefore it is significant.  If I need significant form or forms I can always go to go to all they have are significant forms of the very real, non-imaginary kinds.

Thanks to Wikipedia for most links contained herein though they did not have a listing for Herman Somberg.  Herman passed away in 1991 with very little internet exposure.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Goals within a framework

"Purple Moonrise", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/03/08

People are always saying that you need to set specific goals to get anything done.  There is truth in that sentiment but no guarantee of the end results.  This is of course not a surprising or profound conclusion and in creating artwork probably a foregone conclusion.

In the picture above I set a goal to create a drawing similar to one which was lost/stolen a few years ago.  The missing drawing (below) featured an orange tree with a tan background but a white sun/moon object in the center of the page.  I could have used the same tree but I did not wish to copy the drawing, only to edge towards the same feel.  So I chose orange for the trunk and tan for the sky. 

"Orange Tree", Pastel on Rives BFK White paper, 22T"x30W", 2008/04/01
Before I created the first mark on the paper I had gone off goal.  I chose a different orange and a different tan.  But from there I skewed even farther by making the the small branches orange and to restrict the amount of black I used.  The final big difference is I chose to place the moon/circle on the bottom of the drawing and draw it in purple.

Did I succeed in the stated goal?  I would say I did not.  Did I fail?  I would also say I did not.  Funny thing how the world works; at least in Art.  I like the top picture, and it is successful as a drawing.  There are some computational quibbles with the drawing. Such as I should have set the moon a little to one side rather than framing it in the opening in the branches, but once you start blocking in color with soft pastels there is no going back unless you want to go very dark.

Overall I moved one step closer to a different goal of creating ten more treetops on 22"x30" paper this winter.  Which is part of a goal to get to one hundred.  I already have 100 at 3.75"x5" and over 50 at 5"x7".  Goals with a number attached are easiest measure.

But soon I'll have to set a goal of building more frames.  Then will come more drawings, then more frames.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

So you say you are a Pastelist....

 "Crossing Grid Branches", Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 22T"x30W", 2014/02/14

The word pastel brings to mind light sun bleached colors.  Drawing pastel medium is anything but the light chalky colors you will find your kids classroom.  You can get the entire rainbow of colors including the deepest blacks and vivid colors. 

Soft pastels are, simply put, high test chalk.  But instead of using a white limestone as the primary pigment with tints to achieve color they are pure color pigment with a little binder and filler.  Some pastels use fillers to vary the hardness, tint, and cost of end product.

Traditional pastels use gum tragacanth as the binder but modern pastels use methyl cellulose.  Oil pastels, as the name suggests, use a non drying oil such as coconut oil and paraffin wax to alter the hardness of the pastel.  Crayons use wax as the binder.  And there are various other binder mixes to give a range of hardness and they all fall under the general category of Pastels as a dry drawing medium. 

I use soft pastels and a medium grade hardness pastel called Conte crayons.  I do not like oil pastels primarily because they use non drying oils, and I find the oil soaks into and discolors any exposed paper substrate and they cannot be erased.  I also am not a fan of regular wax crayons due to the workability of the medium and again the inability to erase.

The eraser is by far my favorite drawing tool.  While I do use paper stumps (tightly rolled paper in the shape of a pencil), dry brushes, and chamois for blending, in addition to my fingers, I by far prefer a medium soft eraser.  For me every mark needs to be modified, added to or erased.  The eraser not only removes material it also blends and drives the pigment down into the paper.  This gives an entire new type of making and toning that the pastel will not do on its own.  It can also add a lot of gestural energy to the original marking.

I have big fat erasers, soft erasers, hard erasers, and erasers which are only two millimeters wide in a mechanical pencil type holder.  If it can be drawn, it can be erased. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Random numbers in charcoal and pastel

 John Terwilliger, "Brown Branch Dance", Pastel on paper, 22"x30", 2014-02-16

Many artists will tell you they do not know exactly how a painting is going to turn out when they begin as the picture speaks to them and guides their hand.  This is certainly true for me.  While I have a good idea of the bones of the picture, i.e. what the subject matter, main colors will be a lot is determined as I go.

In my treetop drawings after I sketch the basic trunk/branches onto the substrate (usually paper) I stand back and decide what the background will be.  Now I normally have an idea about the background before I start but the composition may make demands; so I usually oblige.

Random numbers/random choices take the knowledge of the final piece out of your total control.  In a lot of the works I use a grid pattern of some sort in the background.  Why grids you ask?  Well that is for a different post.  Within the grid pattern I will frequently use a random number formula to determine which color to use.  To generate the random number I use dice.  I have four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty sided dice to choose from. As I write I am doing this very thing in the studio.

The drawing in question, see above, has a two square thick grid around the edge of the paper as a sort of border.  The colors to be used in the grid are light blue, dark blue, and lime green.  I have chosen my six sided die to generate numbers and the formula is as follows:
  • 1-3 = light blue
  • 4-5 = dark blue
  • 6 = lime green
As you may imagine there is no real way to know how the grid pattern is going to turn out.  Obviously it should be about 50% light blue with an even spacing of dark blue and green, but there is no guarantee of this happening.  I could shake ones all day long and never even get a six.  I do not go against the dice even when it puts the composition out  of balance so I just have to make it work around the random choices.  In the example there is only one square with green in the bottom left corner and the other corners have more. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Drawing on Plywood or Fun with Varnish

 "River Birch Trunk", Pastel and Charcoal on plywood, 8"Tx10"W, 2014/02/08

by John Terwilliger

Plywood is not a very forgiving surface to draw on with dry media.  Most of the drawing material does not stick to the surface when applied and more blows off when using fixative.  This gives itself over to a dramatic change in the drawing when fixed that takes a little fore-site into the final results.

The best results on plywood are from graphite and charcoal.  And with charcoal the compressed charcoal works best as it has a higher wax/oil content then vine or charcoal pencil.  Soft pastels have virtually no binder in them and rely on the substrate (usually paper) to hold them in place and plywood is not very friendly that way. 

I do not use oil pastels much so will not comment beyond the fact that the pastel stays put and does not need fixing.  However the oil will soak into and spread out on the surface darkening and discoloring the wood.

All of the various plywood types become darker when you spray fix the drawing.  If you do a final varnish coat it darkens by several shades.  This is not surprising to anyone who has ever refinished furniture it is the nature of raw wood and varnish.  It is something to plan for and enhances the wood grain pattern which is the reason to use plywood in the first place.

You do need to spray fix the work prior to varnishing or the liquid varnish with wash out the drawing, even when using a spray varnish.  I use a workable fixative first, as this gives the wood a little “tooth” for the varnish to adhere to.  Then I use a spray varnish that is rated as crystal clear.  Most varnish for wood has an amber hue to it and again will darken the drawing.  If that is what you want you can use it. 
When doing countertops or tabletops I use high wear professional floor varnish.  Several coats of that following the manufacturers instructions, wait seven days for a full cure, and you have a surface as durable a hardwood floor.

If you choose not varnish or fix the drawing on plywood it needs to be framed with glazing (glass or plexi-glass).  When putting dry material behind glazing it needs to be spaced back from the glass.  With regular glass the space of standard mat board is enough.  With plex or acrylic you need about a ¾” gap to keep the drawing material from leaping up to the plex due to static electricity.

As with anything a little care and planning and make a world of difference in the final product.