Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Critique Week

Today's post is a critique of a painting by artist Jill deFelice, "Sea Robin."  I asked Jill to send me her reference images as well as the painting, because I'd never seen nor heard of this extraordinarily ugly fish. She told me they are usually under 3 lbs., croak like a frog when they are caught and are also known as "Fisherman's Bane" because they are a waste of bait and not good to eat. So I got a little marine biology lesson along with a painting to critique!
"Sea Robin" by Jill deFelice

I think this was a very interesting choice of subject. A realist painter choosing a very unusual subject takes on the burden of resemblance. What characteristics identify this as a Sea Robin instead of, say,  an Angler fish. I see Jill has chosen to concentrate on the fan-like fins, it's extraordinary mouth and the interesting textural "design" on the side of the head just above the mouth.

The suggestions below reflect minor adjustments which could be caused by familiarity with a subject. Sometimes we artists forget to paint what we ACTUALLY see as opposed to what we think we see or what has come to be familiar. Jill's website indicates water creatures are a passion of hers. Her contemporary style lends itself well to the vivid colors and movement of her subjects. Jill sent me this painting shortly after finishing it. I am certain that with a few day's separation from the work (something I always find to be of great value), she would've seen the Sea Robin with fresh eyes and made adjustments.

Below I have selected some landmarks to compare between the reference image on the left and the painting detail on the right. The two top marks are at the upper edge of the eye ridges, the lip "corners" and mid points and the meeting of 2 planes on the side of the head.

I played "connect the dots" with the landmarks to form a visual envelope for the head features. As you can see, the width of the painted head is considerably wider than the reference and a line connecting the midpoints of the lips are actually reversed - down and left on the reference, down and right on the painting.

I see the vivid color choices that are a hallmark of the work Jill shows on her website. I appreciate the clean mixes she has used, successfully avoiding muddy color. I would encourage taking the color even further: When I look at the reference picture, I see a lot of strong blues in the fins and those blues could also help define the cup-like form of the fins that are shown in the reference, although they appear flat in the painting.  There are some great segues from oranges to violets in the mouth as well.There is a full range of values in the painting, but I would encourage adding in more lighter value areas to help suggest the form of the head. I love that Jill picked up on the almost decorative skin lines just above the mouth, although I might have chosen to use more of a pointalism approach rather than lines.

Something that would be very helpful in lending dimension to the fish and depth to the scene would be to soften the hard edges and de-saturate to colors of the back/far end of the fish. That big fin on the right could really establish the dimensionality by going from soft and desaturated at the back and coming to hard edges and vivid color in the foreground.

The image below shows a very crude Photoshopping of the soft edges, curved fins and adjusted facial proportion.

Check out Jill's website at https://jilldefeliceart.com and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100013785068950.  Thank you Jill for allowing me the privilege of critiquing your painting of the Sea Robin.

Have a great weekend and remember to Live Out Loud.


Friday, February 24, 2017

IMPORTANT Art Happening Now

For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel like I am watching truly important art being created. David Jon Kassan's Edut Project is exactly that. It is the experience of Holocaust survivors, told through
life-size portraits, filmed interviews and written profiles. It is a powerful, poignant admonition of the consequences of failed social consciousness.

I met David many years ago at a conference where he was happily drawing in one of the vendor booths. It was easy to recognize that this young man was destined to be a force in the representational art world. I've enjoyed watching his rise and have followed the Edut Project since he first announced it. Each portrait is masterfully executed with incredibly lifelike skin tones and textures. Backgrounds, if any, tell part of the story, but do so quietly, letting the focus remain on the portrait itself. Despite the dimensional, almost photorealistic rendering of the figures, they remain painterly. If you can tear your gaze away from the eyes long enough to examine the rest of the artwork, the viewer can visually dissect how each feature was executed. In close-up, the viewer can appreciate the myriad colors - sometimes just one small stroke's worth - lying next to each other to visually blend into the greater sum of the parts. Careful study of any of the Edut Project paintings is a workshop in itself for those willing to learn. 

Earlier this week, David posted one of his latest paintings online, tentatively titled "Love and Resilience." (see it at the end of this post in order to allow the largest size image I can include on the blog). The fact that this incredibly accomplished artist could transcend even his own talent and infuse such humanity onto a canvas is absolutely stunning. I feel Louise and Lazar. I believe David has gone beyond likeness and taps into the souls of these people. Next up, David will be starting a life-size group portrait of 11 survivors of Auschwitz, an epic 18' x 8' in size. 

The whole point of this post is this: Most artists at one point or another in their career engage in "passion projects." Few of us will achieve the social significance of the Edut Project but our efforts will be no less heartfelt or important to us. I am grateful to David for reminding me that our creative voices can celebrate human resilience, serve as a call to action, and record our collective history. It's one way to Live Out Loud.

Visit David's Website     Visit the Edit Project Website  for more information or to support the project.
Follow David on Instagram #davidjonkassan     View videos/tutorials by David on YouTube


Friday, February 17, 2017

On Being a Judge

Over the years, I have been asked to act as an awards judge for art shows large and small.  They all end with the same thing, explaining your process and justifying your choices. I'm hoping to shed some light for artists just starting to enter competitions and perhaps give s
The Critic by Normal Rockwell
ome ideas to neophyte judges on how to proceed.

In some cases, a juror is presented with only digital images and the original works are never personally examined. As discussed in a previous article on entering competitions, the honesty of the submitting artist is assumed. As a juror, it is correct to bypass a poor image. You can't be expected to try and interpret what the painting looks like if you cant see it in proper lighting and perspective. Many times, the images you receive as a judge are low resolution and this also helps to determine how precisely you can assess the work.

When acting as a "live exhibit" judge, the job is exponentially easier. Digital alteration, distortion and resolution are non-issues. You're able to get "up close and personal" to examine the actual paint layer. I much prefer to judge the actual artwork, and I can't imagine a juror who would not say the same. But in today's world, a judge needs to be prepared to go either way.

My first step is always to take a first stroll through the exhibit, either in the gallery or on the computer. This gives an overview of the relative quality of the work. Then I like to spend a few minutes with each of the artworks presented to me to judge. No matter how good or bad the first impression, each and every one of the works deserve the judge's focused consideration. This can be a lengthy process but personally, I would not feel comfortable with my final decisions if I skipped this step.  I'm looking for several things: Composition, an appropriate range of values, clean color mixing, perspective, proportion and consistency of these factors throughout the piece are all important to me. I make a valiant effort to not let my own preferences - what I would pick for my own collection - have bearing throughout this part of the process.

As I whittle down to final choices, even the smallest aspects can affect inclusion. In the end though, it does becomes subjective. When presented with two, three or more pieces equally excellent in all things technical, it comes down to preference. Which painting speaks to me the most? If there is a story being told, I might react to that more positively. Maybe the color palette is what sways me. When I do make final decisions, just one tiny element can  make the difference between a blue ribbon and a red one. In fact that's usually the case. Finding the top three or four pieces is far easier than deciding which one of those is "better" than the others.

I always try to make a Juror's Statement, either aloud and/or in writing about my process. I want the participants in the show or competition to know that a different juror would probably pick a completely different group of winners. Honestly, an extra cup of coffee on another day might have led me to select an entirely different set or order of winners. A different juror would almost certainly pick a different set of award winners.

In the end, I want and need to be able to justify my selections. By following the process that I've adopted over the years, I am able to do that, and to offer honest critiques to both the winners and those that haven't placed.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Profiling Artist Nancie King Mertz

I first met Nancie King Mertz about 13 years ago when she entered one of the first Richeson75 competitions and drove up from the Chicago area for the exhibit reception. It's been a lot of fun watching her career grow! Nancie paints (expertly) in pastels and oils, has fully embraced the Plain Air movement and is a popular teacher as well (She is on the faculty for this year's PACE convention in San Diego). If you don't know Nancie yet, I hope this interview will give you some insight and if you do know her, maybe you'll learn something new about her!

ALC: Would you please share how you came to be a professional artist?
NKM: My parents always joked that my first sentence was “I want an easel”.  So I began painting at a young age, studied art seriously in my tiny high school with the help of extension classes from our nearby university, and majored in painting as an undergrad (Uof IL)and then grad school (EIU)following.

"Cristoval Creek" plein air pastel Nancie King Mertz
 ALC: What’s your favorite digital tool?
NKM: I’m so old-school….I have a digital camera that I use occasionally and I post finished work on FB with my Ipad.  Most of my work is plein air and if I work from an image in my studio, it’s a printed photo from my camera.

ALC: What’s your favorite non-digital tool – the one you absolutely can’t live without?
NKM: My plein air gear!

ALC: If you could take any workshop in the next year, with whom would you like to study and what would you look to learn from him/her?
NKM: Richard Schmid.  His brushwork and intuitive placement is beyond what most artists can achieve.  I studied with him when he lived in Chicago, and what an honor it would be to have the opportunity again.


ALC: What does your workspace look like? NKM: I feel like a very lucky lady.  I have a studio off our kitchen for both oil and pastel and then 2 minutes away, we have my gallery and frame shop where much of the “action” happens.  It’s fully-staffed so I can come and go to work on studio pieces at home or leave to plein air paint in the city or away.  I do spend a lot of time there, however, framing and seeing to the business, but our excellent staff keep it running smoothly 7 days a week, which allows me time to paint and teach in various destinations.  My husband produces Giclee prints and cards of my work, providing many different price points for our gallery.


ALC: What is your primary art/design business goal for the next year?
NKM: This past year I painted in 12 states plus Cuba and produced 150 paintings. That is my continuing goal until I just can’t do it anymore!  I meet so many wonderful people and amazing artists through teaching and competing.  And while I love being on the road, I also love being in the gallery and interacting with clients and collectors as they drop by.
 ALC: What do you consider to be your strongest attribute as an artist/designer?
NKM: My willingness to work my butt off. 

ALC: What painting or design project would be your “dream job”  -  what you would consider to be the ultimate sign of success for you personally?
NKM: I’m happy livin’ the dream…..

ALC: What one piece of advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
NKM: Work very hard to continue to learn.

ALC: Would you share your favorite technique or technical tip for our readers?
NKM: Drawing is the key to any successful painting.  Learn to draw, draw a lot, do it correctly, and you can paint.

Find Nancie online:

all artwork in this post is ©Nancie King Mertz


Your Opinion Please...

Now that the blog is a couple of months old, the Art Lady would like to know what kind of content will make YOU click through and read the full post? Do you want to see more artist/designer profiles, how-to's, tips/tricks from me and various artist/designer friends, funny stories of art experiences past, random thoughts on the business of art...?  Do you want me to have "challenges" to show off your work and maybe win something? Initially, I thought critique would be a major part of the blog, but apparently you guys prefer one-on-one, so that wasn't a hit for you. I want to offer content that you want to see and engage with!

I really appreciate the readership that has developed over the first months and want to make sure I keep you engaged, as well as get more people interested! THIS IS NOT A FORMAL SURVEY! Please just Comment and let me know what your most interests you! What would you like to read about? If you prefer to do it privately, please email by clicking HERE.

Your opinion is very much appreciated! I will throw a dart at a list on the wall of all responders to this and send one of you a sable detail brush to thank you for your time. How often do you get the opportunity to speak your mind and have someone listen?!?! Thanks to you all for making Art Lady Confidential reach more readers than I thought possible when I started on this path.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Unintentional Victim

Let me start by saying I love the internet! Artists and designers are no longer geographically limited. We have an infinite audience available to admire the fruits of our labor. As always though, universal Balance means that there is an equally infinite opportunity to get hornswoggled. Sometimes the cons come to us and sometimes our own enthusiasm does most of the work for the "bad guys."

By this time, I hope you've all become well-versed in the procedure or hitting "Delete" instead of "Reply" when you get an email, usually through your website. The text is something on the order of this:
    "My name is XXX from XXX. I actually observed my wife has been viewing your website 
     on my laptop and i guess she likes your piece of work, I'm also impressed and amazed
     to have seen your various works too, : ) You are doing a great job. I would like to receive
     further information.... "
There may be some mention of shipping to a foreign country, money orders, etc etc. There is 0 chance that this is real. Do not reply. Let your website host know you're being phished. 

More insidious are companies that offer some service - print or produce on demand - but do not have the artist/designer's best interest at heart. There are well-established sites like Zazzle, Cafe Press, Redbubble and others that are clear, straightforward and have proven track records of being fair.  There are others that are clearly not so honest in their business dealings. How do you tell the difference? DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! 

The very first thing you should do is read the contract/sales agreement. A couple of months ago, I received a series of emails from a certain newcomer to the print/product on demand scene. They wanted to offer my designs on high-end garments and fashion/home accessories. Their website looked beautiful and the basic info all looked pretty good. I'm a suspicious old bird though and asked them to send me a copy of their contract (it wasn't on their site). They sent it.  I became more incredulous as I read on. I'm not a lawyer, but I seriously could not believe anyone would sign such an agreement. I read every tiny word and realized that there were no safeguards whatsoever for the artist/designer.

Caveat Emptor. Buyer beware and in this case YOU are basically buying a service. Do not commit to anything before you read all the fine print and if you aren't sure things are fair, pony up and hire a lawyer to read through the contract. Do not let your enthusiasm override your common sense.


The original post ended here, but on Monday, a blog I subscribe to, the Art Licensing Newsletter by Annie Troe, had a really interesting article on this very subject, (and, indeed, about the same company I reference above) written by MJ Bogatin (“Bo”), an Arts & Entertainment attorney from Bogatin, Corman & Gold in San Francisco. Mr Bogatin and Ms Troe gave me permission to link to it and it is definitely worth a read: Click HERE to see Mr. Bogatin's article.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Shipping Artwork

One of the worst things I had to do as a gallery and competition director was make phone calls to artists telling them their painting had arrived, but had been damaged during shipping. In most cases the damage was light to moderate damage to frames, but there were a few instances where the artwork itself was unsalvageable. So what works to protect your paintings but doesn't cost a small fortune?

First of all, realize that no matter how many "Fragile" or "Do Not Crush" labels you put on the box, it WILL be thrown around, crushed and shaken by illiterate gorillas during it's journey. Punctures are not uncommon and frequently cause irreparable damage. Shipping companies do offer insurance (at extra cost of course), but getting them to pay more than $500 can be problematic. Your best bet (and mandatory as far as insurance claims go) is to make sure the art has at least 2 inches of protection all the way around it.

There are special art shipping boxes available. Uline and Airfloat Systems are two sources I have purchased these from. These are sturdy cardboard boxes with available hard plastic puncture shields. Inside the boxes are dense egg-crate type foam that is scored, so you can easily remove just enough to fit your framed artwork in. These are expensive, starting at about $50 for a small box, but can be used numerous times. I would recommend putting your painting in a plastic bag before inserting in the box in case the box gets wet.

Just in the last couple of years, FedEx has started selling art shipping boxes that are much less expensive - around $20. These boxes use shrink-wrap type plastic to hold your painting securely in place on a center piece of board that "floats" the artwork in the center of the box. It's very light weight. There's no foam inside, but I've not seen a painting that has sustained damage when shipped in one (which is pretty remarkable). I use these most of the time myself now. I should note that I have not tried shipping glazed work in them, just framed paintings on canvas and panels.

If neither of those options is attractive, you can build your own box using 2" rigid pink foam insulation, duct tape and cardboard. You can use this kind of box numerous times as well. Directions for the way I make them are below. I've had good luck with these even with glazed work. Again, I would recommend wrapping the painting in a plastic bag before putting it in the box to protect from any water damage if the box gets wet.

All three of these options will also please the recipients of your shipment. They are easy to unpack and repack. Some exhibit prospectus' even designate that if you don't use these kinds of shippers, an extra unpacking fee is charged or the shipment may even be returned. Packing peanuts and/or lots of plastic and tape are universally detested and frankly, they don't work very well either.

It's hard sending our work off into the big, bad world of shipping, but if its adequately protected, chances are good that it will survive it's journey.

Have a great weekend and remember to Live Out Loud!