Wednesday, May 28, 2008

You are as good as your team!

The longer I paint, the more I value the great craftsmen/artists/purists who help me do what I do best.

 I recently had the rather stimulating encounter of New York- based paint maker Robert Doak, To describe him as a mere paint manufacturer, would be an understatement and injustice. 

Hell, he was just featured in The New Yorker as being John Currin's paint supplier. Now, if you don't know who Doak is, I forgive you. But if you don't know who John Currin is, as a portrait painter, well, you should....let's just say Google him ASAP! And study his work. Because he is a master and his paintings sell for gazillions. He his young, uber-hot, (has been since he was a toddler I suspect) and already in museums aplenty.

I first contacted the somewhat gruff-spoken Doak ( charming in that East Coast coffee-twalk bagel and lox  kind of way)  after hearing about him through super-talented, award-winning master painter Adrian Gottlieb, www. adriangottlieb.comwho was kind enough to do a slide show I arranged under my role as CA Co-State Ambassador for The Portrait Society of America.  Gottlieb was wonderful as you might expect and clearly knew his stuff, not gruff at all, so I called Doak right away.

 Doak, put me on the spot. Didn't ask if I was student or professional as it made no difference to him. What! I used Permalba White! Was I out of my mind!  Almost hung up on me I think at that point. What! I didn't know the difference between this and that paint/medium/glass fragment-infused toxin.. You get the idea. 

But I sensed this man was a passionate purist with some considerable years of research behind him who knew things far outside of my Windsor and Newton versus Old Holland kind of realm. Few and far between. And I REALLY dig that although I am not sure I stretch as far as glass fragments in my paint. Adrian, you must tell me more! Sorry Mr. Doak! Don't hold it against me now, will you? I have much to learn. One day you can call me a Currin-ish-Gottlieb-ish Spinks.

I made my first order. It arrived immaculately and lovingly packed. Hand written labels. A delight.  No art store/warehouse slop here. I was very impressed. It made you want to rush off and paint something really good to do it all justice.

I then somewhat daringly sent him an email announcing a recent award. I was gob-smacked when he called personally congratulating me, telling me why he liked the painting and why he didn't. Well, of course. But Doak did mention that my painting reminded him of Velazquez! Well, I had just returned from The Prado in Madrid to see Velazquez, a life-long painting dream, so this sent my into "I LOVE DOAK" mode.

And of course Doak had a specially prepared pamphlet about hard to find Velazquez technique, which was mentioned, not as a hard sell, but just something I might just like. It arrived and was a gem.

 So, needless to say this guy is on my team. Doak says it as it is, from his perspective. One should listen to him and put the art ego aside.  I know I did. He will turn you on to a whole new world of paint. And of course his paints are wonderful. Highly pigmented. As gooey as the best cake. Delicious. Although I didn't care for the Raw Sienna but that is maybe just me. You do of course have to work out what YOU like. Can't copy Currin or Gottlieb, as no-one should.

Another person who is on my team is Tim Giles from New Tradition Art Panels, . Doak might not approve as he had his own advice on panels which is really like an encyclopedia.  But I really like these linen panels and have been using them on most of my big commission sizes. I had sleepless nights, and anxiety, almost needing prozac,  using linen canvas that wrinkled and warped due to humidity. 

I paint by the damp beach. Not good for super kiln-dried stretcher bars or the best Belgian linen. Trust me, I did my homework and wasted a lot of time and money on things experts  said would work driving MILES to find the framer who would work best, paying top dollar for the linen that was sturdy. Then these paintings would go into air conditioned homes on the West Coast...grrrrrr. A year later the client was calling me perplexed. They didn't get the 'trying-to-sooth' comment that all  museum canvases are all like this. They were too busy to go to The Getty. They just wanted it right. And let's not forget, they spent good $$$$ and you just wanted them happy.

Problem solved with these linen mounted on gatorfoam boards. Takes a bit of time to get used to the non-bounce of canvas and the weave you like. I found the portrait grade way too smooth but the landscape grade, C15, perfect. And you do have to do your sketch first to make CERTAIN of your composition size. You can cut them down but what a drag. And you certainly can't add. 

But, once again, a fine product that has made my life a whole lot more headache- free. These hand made linen boards arrive quickly, super well-packed, and they always get it right. Light weight to ship to the client too. So thanks to Tim Giles, the maker, who is an artist himself.

And yes, in case you are wondering, all this stuff does cost a bit more. Actually, if I am honest, quite a bit more than Windsor Newton and Fredrix. But I feel I have an obligation to my client to get it right. These portraits are supposed to last for lifetimes. And on top of that I don't have to worry and lie awake at night. Or take Prozac which is expensive in itself if you are a self-employed artist without corporate health insurance. And I feel good about what I am doing, knowing I have gone the extra mile. Good karma right? Velazquez painting through me for sure. 

So thanks to the superb craftsmen/women out there.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Student of the week! Terrible idea.

I had this idea, which I thought was good at the time to get people to this blog and also maybe provide a learning lesson, to choose a 'student of the week' painting "study" from either my still life or portrait class. 

With the benefit of hindsight, this was not a good idea at all. First of all, there were many good paintings in the class for different reasons at varying levels of his or her art journey.  Secondly, as a teacher, the moment I announced this idea to the class, I felt awkward not wanting to pit people against each other, or themselves, in a learning environment.

 I sheepishly got my camera in from my car and felt immediate regret. Uncomfortable actually. For one thing, I had missed someone who left early and dropped her painting on the way out. That would have been a good SOTW candidate. For another, a favorite former student returned to my class, and I kind of wanted to giver her SOTW because I was so darn happy to see her. Then there was the guy who I adore, a very intelligent former surgeon, who had been painting on fire the whole day. Then there was the student who bombed in the morning and pulled it off in the afternoon. Definite SOTW material. That is the hardest thing to recover like that and not leave in tears. I know! Then there was the student who brings in fabulous baked goods made by her daughter each week. And she works hard, following my instruction to the tee. Another perfect SOTW! And then there is my oldest student (with me from very early teaching) who deserves SOTW for not only improving in leaps and bounds, but also for putting up with me and the same old jokes/lines.

Lines can get crossed and choices!

 No matter how much I hate to admit it, and dislike myself for it,  I have been in workshops where my competitive antennae is up. Who is doing the best job?  Who is going to get the teacher's gold star? And trust me, I have been at both ends of that spectrum. Doing absolutely great (not for long usually) and absolutely terrible (for much longer) . Terrible, far too recently  in fact that it still hurts. 

For workshops I prepare. Practice my drawing harder a few weeks before. Then you just have to trust and leave your ego at the door knowing that you can still have a very "off" day and not show the teacher what you wanted to. It is just the way it is. Just follow the teacher like a pet poodle. Watch, watch, watch and you will learn. 

But I have decided in my own teaching class, naming a student of the week is counterproductive to the type of teacher I want to be. We are lucky to spend the day together, us teacher and students.  I am reminded of this every time I drive to my studio in downtown Oxnard through the farming fields observing people doing back-breaking picking work, rain or hot shine. How lucky and privileged are we? Let's just get together for the learning experience and forget about the rest. Ok?


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yes, You Can Draw With a Brush!

An artist has to be fair to his models, especially if you're their mom.  Equal canvas time (blogtime?)to each so to speak. So here is my other favorite model, my  younger daughter Rosie although she is an old soul and far wiser than me.   You will see her in quite a few of my paintings. 

This was drawn from life as a demo in my portrait teaching class at The California Art Institute on Tuesdays, using black oil paint and guouche, drawn with a bristle brush on Canson paper, a technique I first saw on the streets of Barcelona. Those portrait street artists are amazing and charge so little. Humbling.

On my second trip to Spain years later I determined to spend as much time as it took combing the sidewalks to find an artist who spoke english and would be willing to share the technique. Fuelled by frequent Sangria pit-stops I found my gal. So...YES!
You can draw with a brush!

Hush to all you nay-saying-charcoal pencil purists. Those street guys know their stuff.

Something wrong about the mouth!

When I first met my teacher and dear mentor Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler, N.A., with shaking knees (well, he is close to being God in the portrait world having painted five U.S. presidents and a who's who of American life over the last 50 years) he stressed making painting and drawing from life the highest priority. A landscape painter should paint portraits from life and a portrait painter should do landscapes in the same fashion, he advises in his jam-packed workshops with wait lists as long as a giraffe's neck.

I have since done this over the last few years making sure I paint a head from life in under two to three hours each week, the good, the bad and the ugly And boy, have there been some clangers. Then I  throw them in the studio cupboard. A few years later I  return to look at them and see the progress I have made. Slow, yes, but definitely progress, along with having met some great people along the way. Some of these head studies have become old friends wondering on how that rare day I was so 'on',  caught something, while on others I stank like five day old fish.

Well, I have now taken the brave step to show the private side of my art discipline and practice, assembling my head studies to form the basis of a one woman show, called "Something Wrong About The Mouth".

This title is a famous quote by the great painter John Singer Sargent, every portrait artist's favorite painter it seems, who gave his definition of a portrait as being a painting with something wrong with the mouth. The mouth it seems gave him trouble as good as he was! A humbling lesson for us all. Clients want that mouth just right to their eye. It is said this is what made Sargent give up portraiture when he was at his peak.

Details of the show are:
SCIART-WEST Gallery, Oxnard
June 21 -August 16
"Something Wrong About The Mouth"
Artist Reception Saturday June 21, 4-6pm
Artist Talk and Downtown Gallery Night, Friday June 27, 5 - 7.3

Last time I had a show I had nightmares of egg falling on my face the whole week before. I expect this one to be much the same. Hard putting your work out there particularly your studies. But I now see them as crucial to what I am saying in my finished work and artistic development. If I have a style, and some kind folk say I do, it is life painting that gave me it. If I can get a good "feel" of person ( I do NOT say likeness as Mr. Kinstler has taught me "feel" is more important) it is life painting that gave me it.

So three cheers for life painting. Hip, hip, hooray! And who cares if there is egg on my face because something is not quite right about my mouths.

A favorite model graduates!

Big news! One of my favorite models, aka my eldest daughter Jessica Spinks, graduated University of AZ this weekend from the business school. And she got a great job! All in one week.

BTW,  she is one of my best works of art ever! As is my other daughter, Rosie, hands down!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Edwin Barron, A Gift To The Arts.

What better way to spend this Saturday afternoon than paying tribute with a portrait unveiling and special afternoon honoring a wonderful man, Mr. Edwin Barron, a talented  former professor of drama at Ventura College, who on his passing left his entire estate to Studio Channel Islands Art Centre (SCIART) in Ventura.

SCIART  hosts many artists studios including my own in downtown Oxnard where I have been working for almost a year now, SCIART-WEST. It also boasts magnificent galleries hosting terrific shows.

These days it seems there is so little funding for the arts, especially in public schools, where parents have to pay for private art/music lessons. I certainly had to for my kids in public school and I was appalled by that fact. Where are we without our children being exposed to the arts at a young age? Nowhere.

So I wanted to take a moment to publicly give thanks to Mr. Barron. I hope  he would like the portrait I did of him, 22"x28". I am told I made him look kind. Well, he was. VERY. And many artists, and their shows, will benefit from his kind spirit for a long time.

To read more about Eddy, as he was known, go to the SCIART website.
Pictured top at Eddy's event: LtoR: Gerd Koch, artist, and one of the founders of SCIART, Karin
Beer-Koller ( SCIART president , and Johanna Spinks

The Players' Club Hall of Fame NIght Goes Famously!

Sometimes as artists there are those incredible  'icing on the cake" moments when you want to pinch yourself. Well, here is one of mine,  last weekend at The Players' Club Hall of  Fame unveiling in New York City. 

Mr Everett Raymond Kinstler, N.A. who I have had the huge life-changing privilege of studying with for a few years now, came on stage at one point to introduce the three Players' Club "artist" members, their portraits on display easels, who were being inducted.

There was Mr. Kinstler's amazing portrait of James Montgomery Flagg, left,  that I have admired for many a month,  Mr. Gordon Wetmore's (president of The Portrait Society of America) of John Singer Sargent, right, and sandwiched in between, my portrait of Norman Rockwell.  It was a great moment! 

The wonderful evening included performances by Broadway great Christine Andreas and other talented guests as 27 Players of the past and present were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Eighteen prominent portraitists participated in this painting projected, directed by Mr. Kinstler who is art chair of The Players' Club. No easy task to co-ordinate such a big painting project.

Many of the VERY talented artists (see previous post for names) were present for the swish evening flying in from various parts of the country to enjoy an incredible dinner following cocktails, served in the wood-paneled dining room where Sargent himself often supped.  How wonderful to be in such company!

 In every way. Finger-licking, butter frosting, good.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Competition Crazy?

The longer one paints, the more one feels the need it seems to enter competitions. To get recognition from your peers/superiors? To feed an ego? To bolster resumes? Who knows.  But I do remember winning my very First Place award at The Weisman Gallery, Pepperdine University in Malibu, a rather gorgeous white-walled gallery with a wonderful director, Michael Zakian. Quite frankly I cried my eyes out in the car with disbelief after going back to double-check with show organisers.

Roll the years forward and career-breaking first place prizes are very hard to come by. Big competitions are hard to get into, the bar/level is raised.   Quite rightly so. Let's face it, we can' t all be Jeremy Lipking and hit the right grey color note every time. Sometimes you are left feeling, well,  left out, questioning your art as in my case with the recent California Art Club Gold Show having four paintings rejected after being delighted to have been accepted as a full artist member by a full panel of my peers (which included, yes, you guessed it, Jeremy Lipking) just a few short months before. Now that hurts! Ouch.

And then you have to listen to all your art pals telling you how they got in. What! You didn't?? What's wrong with your work? Maybe you need to draw more, maybe you need to soften things, toughen things. Jeeze, it can make you competition crazy.

I kind of admire the story of a young local L.A. artist who recently took his paintings off a gallery wall in a great flurry when show judges didn't give him a top prize. At least he KNEW his worth. What strength. He was allowed back into the show later and got to demo his stuff to other artists shortly after. BOY, he must be good! Should Jeremy Lipking be worried?

But no such flurry here. There I was still feeling a rather Lipkingish-bruised grey this week from  CAC Gold Show rejection when the phone rang Thursday to tell me I had won the Daler-Rowney Award for painting excellence at The Oil Painters' of America National Show in Montana. See picture. "HEATHER"S BRAIDS". Wahoo! This was good news indeed.

I almost fell off my chair. In a few short days I went from "What am I doing?" to "I know exactly what I am doing!" However, I do know the latter feeling won't last long.  I know another great artist who put a rejection slip and subsequent gold medal award (for the same painting in the same competition a year later) side by side on the mantel in his studio to remind him how random this can be, and to not take it all so seriously.  

What is the most important thing it seems to me is to create great art. And both The CAC Gold Show and The Oil Painters' of America National Show showcase the incredible talent that is out there in America. Period. It is mind-blowing. Take a look at both shows for some terrific inspiration. Then go and paint, not to get into the competition next year, but just to do a great painting. It seems to me the paintings you do just for yourself are the winners every time!

Just so you know, "Heather's Braids", was a five  hour sitting and is 14"x21". And I spent a lot of MONEY on the frame because judges look at the frames. Right?