Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Teaching Across Interstellar Distances

As an introvert, I don't mind the time at home.  (Extroverts, I imagine, are having a much harder time not reaching for the car keys.)  I'm working on a painting project, tweaking some of my web sites, organizing what I call my "art-chives," revisiting some favorite hiking spots, pulling out some of my old writing projects, doing my long-neglected estate planning--and at the same time, trying to avoid checking the body count every 30 minutes.

One thing I'm really missing, though, is teaching my workshops.  As I mentioned before, I've been forced to cancel my spring ones.  (However, I'm still taking signups for my July and August workshops in Maine; hopefully, this optimism will be rewarded.)  To satisfy this need, I thought I'd try something online.

I'm maintaining light-years between me and the rest of the world.  Is it possible to teach across interstellar distances?

Well, I am going to try.  My first thought was Facebook Live, but that might not give me the degree of interaction I'd like with the students.  I'd like to get and reply to questions.  Do you have a favorite online teaching tool you might recommend that is free or doesn't cost much?

Also, I have a survey concerning this I'd like you to take.  It'll take only two minutes.  I want to know what day of the week works best for you, as well as whether morning, noon or evening--keeping in mind that time zones (and maybe the speed of light) will affect what time the session would occur for you--how long the session should be, and subject.   You can take the survey here.

Thank you!  Stay well--and stay at home!

[UPDATE:  See survey responses here.]

Sunday, March 29, 2020

My Story: Success as a Painter

20 years ago we left our jobs in Vermont and came to the
Zuni Mountains of New Mexico.

If we measure success in terms of dollars earned, I'd call myself moderately successful as a painter.  Although I've been painting all my life, it wasn't until 20 years ago that I decided to “go pro.”  I quit my day job, knowing that I had some money put aside for emergencies.

Quitting my day job enabled me to focus.  I took workshops; I read art instruction books; but above all, I painted.

Now and then, I did some freelance work as a web designer and computer consultant.  I made sure that none of this distracted from my goal of being successful at painting.  Trina helped, too, taking jobs now and then as a librarian and making some real estate deals.  All of this helped me—and us—to keep our heads above water while I painted.

Once I got into my first gallery, the sales began.  I set up a web site to help market my paintings.  I was asked to teach, too.  I didn't do this, though, until I felt comfortable with my skill set and knew I could keep one chapter ahead of the students.  Teaching helped me learn.  I also began to contribute articles to art instruction magazines.

These three things—sales, teaching, writing—have kept me going for 20 years.

Sure, I had worries.  Rarely did either of us have health insurance.  Other worries, common to the self-employed, sometimes kept (and still keep) me awake at night.  Try getting a loan as a self-employed person without a W-2.

Despite the uncertainties, I'll never regret my decision to “go pro.”  People talk about retiring at my age, but I don't see it.  I won't keep going out of necessity, but out of love for what I do.  I can't imagine not picking up a paint brush, or sitting down at the laptop to mull over a sentence, or showing a student how to properly make a value sketch.

(UPDATE.  Even with COVID-19 burning through the country and the difficulties it is causing for me as a self-employed artist, I still don't regret my decision.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Being Self-Employed During a Pandemic

Maybe now's a good time to take a walk.

Yesterday, the governor of New Mexico issued what is basically a “shelter-in-place” order.  (She didn't call it that, because the state doesn't use that term in its legislation, but the effect is the same.)  All non-essential businesses are shut down.  By the way, that includes plein air painting workshops like mine.

I saw the writing on the wall several days ago and cancelled all my spring workshops.  Because the deposits I've already received are important to me, rather than give refunds, I offered students the option of taking a future workshop or to put the credit toward books, videos, online courses or paintings.  All of them understood my situation and agreed.  I am very glad.  As a self-employed worker, I don't receive a guaranteed weekly paycheck or unemployment insurance.

Right now, I am l living off my past work.

This includes, of course, my painting sales.  Although many of us artists think that painting is as necessary to life as breathing, for non-artists, the purchase of a painting is purely discretionary.  With the future now more uncertain that ever, painting sales will drop.  Even if you're a collector who's  getting a regular paycheck, you might soon be out of work temporarily—with no idea of when you might go back to work.  You will be saving your dollars for essentials, not spending them on paintings.

I understand many other self-employed workers, not just artists, are in similar positions.  I won't go into a long harangue, but self-employed persons are often discriminated against for bank loans, insurance and other benefits of society that the “not-self-employed” sometimes take for granted.  Perhaps this will change, since the pandemic is reminding us that the number of self-employed workers is not insignificant.  Besides artists, the self-employed includes journalists and other writers, freelancers for the entertainment industry, tradesmen, real estate professionals, farmers and ranchers, massage therapists—well, it's a long list.

As you might recall, I also write.  On the bright side, perhaps with all the self-isolation, people might want to buy more magazines and books to fill the hours.  I've already received one writing assignment this week, which will help.

I'm sure you have your own tale to tell.  The pandemic is, of course, hardest on those who are sick and those who must tend the sick, but it's also hard on those who work in essential businesses that keep our society running:  the farmers and truck drivers who maintain the supply chain, the store clerks who keep the shelves filled, the worker at the cash register who bags your goods.  There are plenty of others.  Again, it's a long list.

During this time of isolation, I am painting.  I am writing.  I am reading and watching movies.  (Downton Abbey, yet again?)  I am taking long walks.  But I am also trying to reach out to family and friends, and also to students via e-mail, the telephone and online chats.  And I am planning projects for the future, as I firmly believe there will be a future.

How about you?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Wolf Kahn (1927-2020)

"Bend in the Chesapeake Ohio Canal"
Pastel, 21x29
by Wolf Kahn
Courtesy of The Granary Gallery

Wolf Kahn died this past week, aged 92.  I never met Kahn, nor his wife, fellow painter Emily Mason, who died last December.  When I first started working in pastel, there was much talk among pastel painters about him.  Although he worked in oil, he was one of the few well-known painters who also worked regularly in pastel.  I am always surprised by his sometimes-subtle, sometimes-raw expression with color.  His mastery flies lightyears beyond mere technique; his paintings possess a kabbalistic yet childlike quality that many try to imitate without success.

Originally from Stuttgart, Germany, he came to America during the Hitler years.  He studied with Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman and soon became his studio assistant. In New York City, he and other Hoffman students founded the Hansa Gallery (named after their teacher.)  In 1968, he and Emily purchased a farm near Brattleboro, Vermont, where they spent time when not in the city.

From his website, www.WolfKahn.com :
The unique blend of Realism and formal discipline of Color Field painting sets the work of Wolf Kahn apart. Kahn is an artist who embodies a synthesis of artistic traits—the modern abstract training of Hans Hofmann, the palette of Matisse, Rothko’s sweeping bands of color, and the atmospheric qualities of American Impressionism. The fusion of color, spontaneity and representation has produced a rich and expressive body of work. 
A painter friend of mine once remarked that Kahn was a painter who understood that sometimes you don't have to take a painting any further than the underpainting to call it done.  Many of his paintings do look like underpaintings; yet, to my mind, they have an “implied” or “predicted” finish in the way he made marks with pastel or brush.  You knew where he was going with it and didn't need any more.

Although both of us at one time lived in Vermont concurrently, I never had the pleasure of meeting Kahn.  My mentor years ago, Ann Templeton, had, and she once took a workshop with him.  She told me that he never let a student take more than one; he didn't want to turn out a bunch of little Wolf Kahns but hoped each student would find his own way.  When we were working on her book, The Art of Ann Templeton: A Step Beyond, she felt he had been such a mentor to her that she called him up to ask if he might contribute an image for the chapter on her teachers.  He respectfully declined, adding that he had stopped teaching.  With the onset of macular degeneration, he had decided to put all his energy to just painting.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Paint the Same Old, Same Old

Edgar Payne, "Fifth Lake"
39 3/8 x 49 3/8 in. Oil/canvas.
Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design

As a plein air painter, it's so easy to get into a rut.  You go with what is comfortable and easy.  After countless outings in a familiar locale, you use the same strokes to define the landscape, the same mixtures to color the world, the same shorthand to represent your subject.  Some might call this a style—but I call it a rut.

Sure, some days, I just like to have an easy time of it.  I don't want to invent a better way of painting mountains.  So, I use my usual angular strokes here, angular strokes there, and my usual colors of yellow ochre, terra rosa and ultramarine blue.  It's like chewing gum—a way to keep the jaw muscles in shape.

I've seen many well-respected plein air painters work this way.  Some painters of the American Southwest, for example, paint only mountains, and they paint them very well.  There's a certain, constant Edgar Payne-like quality that, frankly, I find wearisome.  But they do sell.

Besides comfort, knowing that such paintings will sell is another reason to stay with your wheels locked in a rut.  However, I am reaching a point in my life where selling is more a badge of honor than a financial necessity.

For me, creativity isn't painting the comfortable “same old, same old.”  Creativity takes work and, yes, it can make you uncomfortable.  There are so many other interesting—and  untried—ways to paint the world.

Maybe today I'll take a quick spin off-road through the sagebrush to see what I find.