Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Inventory System for Paintings

Lifting Fog at Dawn
11x14 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

A reader asks, "How is it that you track and label all of your works?"  This is a great question, because keeping accurate inventory records is crucial for a professional artist.  What's the exhibition history of a piece?   What gallery was it in?  Who bought that painting? What did it sell for?  If I need to reshoot an image for publication, do I know its current location?  Having this information at your fingertips can make your job a lot easier.

Screenshot of my inventory system record form

I've been using the same inventory system for over 15 years.  I crafted what one might call an "artisanal" database—read "homemade, with many tweaks"—in Microsoft Access.  When Access became too expensive, I migrated my database over to Open Office, which is free.  Although not every painting, sketch or scrawl gets inventoried, anything I think worth keeping or selling does.  If I destroy a piece, I make sure I note that in the database, too.   That will save me time hunting for a painting that no longer exists.

Back of the above painting showing my labeling

Also important is the labeling of the artwork.  On the back of each painting, I make sure to write:

  • Inventory number
  • Date created (this can be as vague as a month and year)
  • "EPA", if the work was created en plein air
  • My signature
  • My name, printed
  • The month and year the piece was varnished plus the brand and type of varnish (this will help conservators down the road who may need to clean the work)

and sometimes, if I am experimenting with grounds or surfaces, I will write down what products I used such as Gamblin PVA size and Golden acrylic gesso.

Screenshot of my Picasa interface

As for images, I make sure to get a high-resolution (300 dpi, and at least 8x10 inches) TIFF file.  The filename contains the title of the piece plus the inventory number.  This gets indexed on my computer by Google's Picasa (a wonderful program, but alas no longer supported by Google.)  Naming the file this way makes it easy to find if I need to create an inventory sheet for a gallery or exhibition.

I know there are other systems, some professionally created—"by artists, for artists"—but the record-keeping doesn't need to be complicated or have lot of bells and whistles.  Simple is best!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

On the Road: New York Plein Air Painting Workshop

Painting along the Wallkill River

Some time ago, when I was looking for new places to teach workshops, I came across the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, New York.  What I liked about it was their mission:

Wallkill River School has been called Orange County’s first homegrown arts movement; mainly because we are the first arts organization with an agricultural component. We identified early on that our fate is intimately tied to our local farms, historic sites, and open spaces. Like our forebears; the Hudson River School, we seek to use our art as a way to raise awareness of and to benefit these important regional treasures. Arts generate tourism, and Wallkill River School generates agricultural tourism, heritage tourism, and brings in new arts audiences. 

This very much parallels my idea that landscape painters are stewards of the land.  So I was very excited when Shawn Dell Joyce, founder and executive director, invited me to teach a two-day workshop there.

My pastel of the Benedict Farm, 9x12

Though cool, the weather couldn't have been any better.  We painted one day at the Benedict Farm Park along the banks of the Wallkill River; the second day, at the Hill-Hold Museum, with its beautiful buildings and landscape.   Each morning, though, we started out at the School's wonderful Patchett House gallery and office, with art talk and critiques.  Shawn provided beverages and snacks each day as well as a bountiful lunch.

(Above photos by Shawn)

 I so much enjoyed the workshop here that I have scheduled another one for this fall, September 26 & 27, 2017.  Speaking of workshops, I want to remind you of my upcoming five-day plein air painting workshop in Rockland, Maine, for Coastal Maine Art Workshops.  Rockland has a beautiful waterfront, offering much for the painter.  If that doesn't work for you, please keep in mind my four-day workshops in Lubec, Maine.  If you bring your passport, I'll be happy to show you my studio on Campobello Island, right across the bridge!

Friday, May 12, 2017

On the Road: Ohio Plein Air Painting Workshop

"Out the Window" oil demonstration
(Photo by Nancy Vance)

It's hard for me to believe, but it's been almost a month since we hit the road on our annual spring trip east.  Right now, we're in Vermont.  After weeks of cloudy, cool weather in the Champlain Valley, the sun returned yesterday.  People now have a chance to smell the lilacs, mow their lawns and gather rhubarb for pies.

This past week, I taught two workshops, one in Columbus, Ohio, and the other in Montgomery, New York.  In this post, I'll write a little about the Ohio workshop.

Springtime is tick time in much of the country.
Here I model my tick gear while showing thumbnail sketches to the group.
I'm wearing pyrethrin pants tucked into my socks,
with Naturpel (picaridin) sprayed on everything below the knees.
(Photo by Nancy Vance)

My friend, Nancy Vance, has joined me in many workshops and painting retreats, both in the US and abroad.  Recently, she offered to sponsor a workshop with her group, Central Ohio Plein Air.  Since Nancy is a wonderful organizer and Columbus was on our route east, I agreed right away.

Spring weather in Ohio can run the gamut from heat waves and tornadoes to rain and even snow.  For our workshop, we had something right in the middle:  pleasantly cool weather.  Drizzle the first day kept us indoors.  However, we were based at the Stratford Ecological Center which, besides being a working farm with barns, cows, pigs, sheep, llamas and bees, offers a large workshop space, so we were comfortable.  I painted two demonstrations for the thirteen painters.  First was a pastel from a photo, followed later in the day by a "looking out the window" oil demo.  The next day, the sun appeared, and we enjoyed painting the landscape from life.  I painted two more demonstrations for everyone, one showing how to start a painting with a monochromatic underpainting and the second showing how to achieve depth in your painting easily.

(All photos above by Nancy)

Nancy wrote a really nice blog post on the workshop:  Thank you to Nancy, and to everyone who came out for the workshop!  I enjoyed the workshop so much we have scheduled a return for October 2018,

Next, I'll write about my workshop in Montgomery, New York, for the Wallkill River School of Art.

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