“I painted picture upon picture in keeping with the impression made on my eye in a moment of heightened emotion – painted the lines and colours that remained fastened to my inner eye… By painting the colours and lines and shapes I had seen in an emotional state – I wished to recapture the quivering quality of the emotional atmosphere like a phonograph.”
– Edvard Munch
This. A painting I make is based upon an impression made upon me by the experience of an emotional state. It is to be seen as if listening to a song.
I received this question the other day:
“I want to sell my images; I have portfolio books, am a shameless self promoter; gallery experience; trade show experience – all I want to do is paint. Who should I introduce myself to? What advice can you give me please?”
We toil away over our work, hemming and hawing, trying to get it right. Then we try again. And again. And then, eventually, there is a moment when we’re pleased (or as pleased as we will ever be) with it. And, at some point, we call it finished. Then we get it photographed. Framed, maybe. Hang it on our wall. Or maybe we put it in the closet with all the others that didn’t quite make the cut for the wall. Then we begin a new one and the cycle plays out all over again.
We also post it to our website, to Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr (maybe? Do people use Tumblr?), and probably some other social media platform I know nothing about because life moves faster than I do. We tell people it’s for sale. We make prints. We do all the things right that people tell us we are supposed to do in order to market our product, our art.
And yet, and yet: we don’t have people banging down our door – even if we feel we made the god almighty ever lasting this is it right now VISION of our lifetimes.
What to do? The truth is: I don’t have any advice that you haven’t heard or read elsewhere. All I personally ever come back to is: zero in on what the art is and go from there.
What I mean by that is: first and foremost, you have to focus on the making. It has to go beyond ‘making content’ and into ‘expression of experience’ or ‘journey of discovery’ or something like that. Even if it’s ‘I’m making this for my sister’ – we have to tap into a deeper place that gives it a sense of meaning. What is it about? What is its reason for being?
A work of art thrives when it resides in that nameless faceless something that is the creative force. There’s a dissolution of self that makes all great art and that spark that arises, the joy, the real life and verve of a work comes from that dissolution into the flow of the creative act.
So we start there. Only when you’re done can you think about the marketing of it. I never think ‘what might be a marketable work’. I only think later, when it’s finished, how can I share it. How can I frame the idea? How does this fit into the dialogue of art and artists and life around me?
When we are finished, only then do we have a product, some content. It’s our job to not just create ‘content’ – after all, anyone can write another click bait article about ten ways you can make better art (wait til you see reason #5! I couldn’t believe it was so simple!) – but to really create something that sings one’s soul in a real authentic sort of way requires a different approach.
But back to our finished work. What then? Well, it’s different for everyone. For instance, where I see my work, how I want to reproduce it and market it, may be different than what you want to do with your own work. The note you’re playing, the song your singing, etc – it’s all unique to each of us and what we feel, in our hearts, is a sound use of it is different for everyone. It’s hard for me to say “Well, next you go print it on X thing and then sell them in Y outlet” or something. It doesn’t work like that.
Instead, what I can say is this:
Think about who you are painting for. What do they want? What can they afford? What’s the highest price? What’s the lowest? Maybe there’s multiple tiers to that group you might call your target market. What turns them off? What turns them on?
From there, you start targeting those areas. Is it pillowcases? Cool. Go figure that one out. Is it festivals? Ok. Explore that one.
But look, here’s the thing: you have to be able to sleep well with your choices. What I mean is: everything we do has an impact. Every product, every piece, every reproduction. To me, the means of production is just as important as the product. I sit with different things and think: can I stomach that? Does it feel good? When I wake up at 4:30 am will it churn around in my mind like a grain of sand stuck in my craw? How will I feel working with this person? Producing that product? I find that navigating through all the myriad possibilities with that sort of “sensation guide” as my compass, helps me narrow in on exactly what I want to make and create.
This isn’t to be confused with some moral compass that deems others wrong and you right. This is simply learning to steer our ship in a way that engages not just that excited mind of ours ready to leap at the next great opportunity. Instead we want to guide ourselves towards things that really feel good for ourselves and others.
There’s so many times I got super excited about someone’s big project, some new idea, some awesome exciting it needs to happen right now opportunity. Then it didn’t come to pass. So a lot of energy goes into DOING without results. The key here is to focus our goals with our needs with our creative drives so that there’s less running away on the heels of a shiny new offer. I look at it as if they are these ever expanding circles.
Those circles work like this:
First there’s us. We identify ourselves as ARTIST. That’s it. Own it. You’re an aritst.
Then the next circle is our work. It’s the extension of ourselves.
This circle has a sub-tier (in fact, the sub tiers, extensions, and so on, expand in every direction) and that is our expenses. How long did that painting take? What was your rent? Your mortgage? Your water or electric bill? So there’s the ‘amount going into sustaining this machine so I can create’. This is something to always keep in mind because the following tiers all relate to this as much as the work itself.
In our ever widening rings, our next ring is our online presence, vital in this day and age, which we have to think about before we even start trying to sell anything. Who we are, how we frame ourselves, how we shape our identity in the world. Only once we’ve established that have we created a base from which to traverse into the next ring.
So now we get into the selling. There’s maybe some kind of prints. Great. Maybe we mass produce some product and they are sold through some chain store. Cool. That’s what you’re doing and your website and facebook reflect you in a way that speaks to that market. Maybe you found a good flow going to festivals through the summer. Nice. Maybe you have a consistent gallery presence. Awesome.
Maybe none of them ever will truly pay the bills. This is the culture and world we live in. And we, as artists, have to learn to live with that. But you know what it takes for each piece (like I mentioned earlier) so take that into account as you sell your work.
Now, I am as stubborn as they come about my resistance to doing anything other than art making. It’s a choice I’ve made and sometimes it pays off. Other times, I’m wondering how it’s all going to work out.
Then some new stroke of luck. Some other thread, long dormant, bears fruit or an ongoing discussion finally turns into a paycheck. The older I get, the more of these I have because I have been planting those seeds, doing that work, bearing with it, for so many years. I’m sorry to say it but that’s the truth: You just have to keep at it and keep making and nurturing those connections.
Just like you, I worry, I fret, I stress. I go back to art making. I go back to my garden. Even when I worry and fret. Because every day, regardless, I make, I create, I go back to the studio.
Admittedly, my self today is different than the seat-of-my-pants 24-year-old self. That self had no idea about nurturing connections. It was day to day, minute to minute, even tho I was going to live forever. Funny how that works, eh?
So here we are today, plugging along, continuing to weave together ideas, threads of relationships, creative fire, building something that sustains.
But who can I introduce you to? No one you probably haven’t already met.
What advice can I give you? Don’t be afraid to be creative. As we are creative in our work, try to be creative in business, in life. Take pride in what you do. OWN it. BE it. LIVE it. BREATHE IT. BELIEVE it. And keep at it.
The more you keep at it, the better you get and the better you get, the more you will believe in it and the more you believe in it, the more others will as well.
We need art of all kinds in this world because we are people of all kinds.
This painting is made in collaboration with Layla Love, a photographer and human rights activist. The painting is part of a show in NYC titled ‘Rise of the Butterfly‘.The show aims to raise money and awareness for issues around and the ending of sex slavery and human trafficking.I have a small blurb accompanying the piece. It reads:
There’s no pretty way to say this; no way to look away or ignore it. This: a painting born from the sweetness of my studio, speaking to and of unfathomable human despair. But here it is. Here it is. And that despair cuts through it like an absence of light in a clear sky. Yet without casting light into those dark spaces we can never heal our culture, transforming that absence, awakening each other again to the dance of interconnectivity, creating beauty. And I believe that, in the end, there will be – and always be – beauty.
It was a hard painting to make: the reasons for its existence are disturbing, to say the least. So where does one find inspiration for such a piece? I think it starts with finding gratitude and beauty in one’s present moment and then turning that gaze to where there the light is absent.
“A New Perspective”
15″ x 22″
A collector of my work, Eben Pagan, commissioned me to paint a portrait of him in my style. I don’t do a lot of portraiture so I enlisted Violet’s help and we worked together on this painting. She is more adept at creating from real life than I am. In that way, we tend to meet in the middle as my approach generally builds up from abstraction.
Eben is quite a thinker, parsing different ideas and concepts through his mind in a really brilliant manner. The resulting piece is intended to portray the lens of the mind contemplating a flower and the various ideas and associations around that- colors, shapes, etc. He loves the blues in my work and had requested that I stay within that spectrum, so it was a good piece to paint in tandem with “Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)”.
His response? “I hope I can live up to this vision you’ve painted of me.”
Interested in discussing a portrait? Contact Me
A preliminary word first: this is a sensitive and vulnerable post, and you should know in case you have sensitive vulnerabilities of your own that some challenging topics are discussed. But lest you think I betray her confidence and expose her innards without concern, this was written with consent and in conjunction with Violet. The best remedy for shadow is to bring it into light.
I began this painting in September 2017 and called it finished in March 2018. At the time I began it, the blues and clear focus felt like a good next step following “A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds”. But then the fires hit all around us (we live a couple hours north of San Francisco) and our air was awash in smoke, the light was ever orange-gold, and everything was on edge and chaotic and burning. Suddenly cool blue didn’t seem appropriate even if it felt trite to say so.
At the time, too, we’d taken in a bunch of cats that our neighbors abandoned when they moved a few weeks before. One of those cats, Mu, who Violet had rather fallen in love with, was seized by our neighbor’s dog and killed. They both – the cat and the neighbor’s dog – somehow got into a fenced off portion of our yards that we powerless to access, but it all happened right in front of us. It was brutal. This would be in and of itself rather tragic, but she had already been in the trenches of grief and depression. There had been a lot of loss in her life recently and it’d been building, draining, challenging: Four very close family members and a friend all within a year or so, all in tragic ways. This sweet new kitty had been a bright spot of hope, and his violent death rocked an already distressed boat and she tumbled even deeper.
Meanwhile, the painting was on the proverbial back burner, but prominent on the wall of my studio. I kept looking at it: this messy and incomplete vision of beauty that seemed so distant and burdened. This sense of wonder was surrounded by despair.
Everything hurt all the time.
Yet, I kept seeing – or trying to see – this painting as her in one of her highest forms. She sat for my reference photos, after all, as she frequently does, even though it’s never really the intention to paint her specifically. Violet is a powerful woman, this amazing force in my world. She has a wonderful way of seeing everything all at once like no one else can. And she can take it all in and find relationships, memorize moments, and she manages it pretty well, for the most part. So we’d have our arguments as all couples do and it’d be this pool of sad and I’d come back to this painting that didn’t even seem to be about anything anymore. It was supposed to be a vision of clarity yet everything felt so unclear. So raw and vulnerable. Nothing made sense.
For me, it felt overwhelming – all these responsibilities (mundane things like mortgage and bills but also the person who is keeping things moving forwards. The one whose “turn” it is to be UP) and desires (personal goals and dreams and needing inspiration but also in business or love or spirit) and emotions (and all the rest) (not to mention the general state of the world) (gah!). All the while, Violet struggled through this ever deepening pit of despair while I was left simply trying to stay afloat.
Through all that, I wanted to build this beautiful vision for her so that when she looked at it she saw some aspect of herself. She’d modeled for my original photos after all. I wanted it to inspire her the way she inspires me.
You see, the paintings I make create a backdrop to our lives – these ordinary and yet extraordinary lives that we lead. They reflect it all back and become points of departure, growth, and intimacy. It was challenging sometimes to go back to this painting when there’d be strife or despair and I’d be left feeling like I’m wringing light from painted diamonds.
And so that became this painting: it is simply me lifting her, you – all of us – up as best I can to the highest vision where we’re left without form in a space of light reflecting light.
Looking for a title, I’d been calling it “Rain” for a long time, referring to it as “That Rain Painting,” Violet had used the word “Reign” at one point in our seemingly never-ending discussions of titles, and I recalled ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ – a song by The Who – and though I’ve not been much of a fan or follower of The Who, I found this bit of writing from Pete Townshend regarding the song in the context of the album to be relevant:
“Love Reign O’er Me refers to Meher Baba’s one time comment that rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God’s Voice. It’s another plea to drown, only this time in the rain. Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level. He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness. He’s in danger of maturing.” – Pete Townshend (From the liner notes of Quadrophenia)
Going back to October, November, I was having conversations with Violet about her ruminations on suicide. She’s no stranger to it, having lost her best friend and first love that way when she was young, and then just recently her closest cousin in July. Depression is so very real and they were heartbreaking conversations. Conversations that left, in the back of my mind, a lingering worry of leaving her alone for too long. It is frightening. It was all the work I could do to stay focused. Committed. Moving forwards. Staying on top of the bits and pieces of our business, our home, our lives and also maintaining some creative flow and focus.
I suppose there was a moment – perhaps for each of us – between one maelstrom and the next – it’s like the eye of the storm – the pause of the pendulum – when everything is still and perfect – everything is floating, falling, cascading – frozen – you stop going in one direction and decide to go in another – it’s a sleet of diamond daggers and you’re on fire and your head is exploding but in that moment everything is perfectly balanced, in sync, and in a moment’s time the light passes through it and you hear that note, that melody, that reminder and in that moment we catch our breath, we lift our heads, we open our eyes again and say I AM. Here, I am.
In those crystalline moments of realization, when we see everything so clearly – when it’s all just light and shadow, contrasts weaving in and out of each other, ebbing and flowing together – there it is; there is life. We can keep our heads hung low but, really, I think, it’s love that anchors us, makes us look up, that causes us to open our eyes. To see. I think that only love can do that and it is some spark within us – this unquenchable fire – that is ignited again. And again. And again.
I wonder if anyone at an art show in 1900 said “O, look, ANOTHER painting of a woman at a bar.” There’s SO many paintings of a woman at a bar. Woman drinking at a bar. Woman sitting at a table near a bar. Then, sometime in 1945, Max Ernst comes along and says, “Hold my absinthe” and he paints ‘The Cocktail Drinker.”
The reason I mention this is you might look out on the artistic landscape and say: o another profile of a face, another soup of abstraction, another… and so on. But these paintings become the visual language of our current times. Out of those, arise a few particularly noteworthy pieces and we use those in the future to guide our understandings of ourselves.
In the case of ‘another painting of a woman at the bar’ we have Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”:
Renoir’s “Moulin de la Gallete”:
Gauguin’s “Night Café at Arles”:
Don’t forget Van Gogh’s “Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin”:
And so on. You get the point. It’s a motif of the time. What is the time we live in today? What do we try to understand through our art, our repetitions, our motifs and visual languages? This is what gets asked fifty, a hundred years down the road. This is the ever evolving story of art.
“Yesterday I resumed work. It’s the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times. All the same, I feel ashamed to think about my little researches into form and colour while so many people are suffering and dying…”
– Claude Monet. 1914. While working on his water lilies paintings during World War I.
I feel like this sometimes. There’s so much going on. There’s this endless stream of chaos beating down my door. Who am I to turn my back on this issue or that issue and “resume my little researches into form and colour” while so much pain and suffering exists. Maybe it’s the fact that joy CAN exist side by side with the pain.
WWI raged on outside his door with troops marching to the trenches and cannons and explosions in the distance. He turned back to these canvases, toiling away on what must have alternately seemed like a retreat, an excuse, a guilty pleasure, a creative drive.
I feel this way sometimes: these lines, curves, visions, ideas… They speak to and of the current times. They are informed by it and offer inspiration. Art is a vital part of our human experience and that creative drive of expression is inherent in our existence. It’s found in every culture, every tradition: the desire to make beautiful, to make special, to create some mirror of ourselves in the world around us. Yet, while the wars, the protests, the heart ache rages on, our little studies, our tidy pictures, can seem frivolous.
There is no end to the ugly, though. If we don’t create the beautiful, then what are we left with? So I keep at it. And, if you are a creator, I urge you to keep at it too.
Read more about Monet here: Wartime water lilies: how Monet created his garden at Giverny
When you decide to be a painter – and I mean the painterly sort who is rendering shapes and objects and emotions – I think it’s important to always remember that you aren’t merely painting a representation of the thing, you are painting THE thing. It’s not a cloud. It’s all your feelings and ideas and archetypes of clouds. It’s not a leaf, it’s how the leaf feels and where it resides in your world. A successful painting has not only the subjects arranged and objects properly rendered according to your style and taste, but most importantly it captures the feeling, the sensation those objects and subjects are intended to evoke. For me, it always comes back to ‘but how does it FEEL?’ and I work outwards from there. I think the second mark of success of an artwork is that others can feel it too, without words or explanation. Then I feel we’ve really accomplished something.
The trick – the secret – to being a successful artist is that – and I’m going to tell you right in the beginning and not make you wade through pages of text and links – and that’s good because no one has time for that because the secret of artists everywhere of all kinds and shapes and sizes is that, first and foremost, you have to MAKE art.
And keep making art.
And follow the thread of your art making to the nth possible degree of beauty and craft and expression. And then follow it further. You have to make art even when you’re tired and want to do something else. You have to make art even if you feel you don’t have anything left to say. You have to make art even when you don’t feel like making art (which is more often than most artists want to admit). You have to make it and make more of it. You have to find a new facet, and a new facet, and a new facet. You have to keep practicing. Keep making. Keep working. Keep doing. This is how you become successful at anything. This is how you become a successful artist.
However, what a ‘successful’ artist is, is up for debate. Does it mean getting to make art as your sole occupation? Having all your bills paid? Having your name in lights? Recognition? Fame? Comfort?
I believe that success is getting to make your art simply because that is what you do in the world. It is an ever unfolding journey. And it is a journey which every artist undertakes.
I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message here and
I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.
Thank you for your interest in my work.
Please send me a note here, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.