Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My New Project: A Visual Life in the Roaring Forties

It is out there now. I just this morning launched my Kickstarter project entitled, " A Visual Life in the Roaring Forties" It will involve the creation of a series of etchings and paintings chronicling my life and times down under. You can read all about it here. I am really excited about this project and the Kickstarter concept in general. It allows writers, artists and anyone with a creative idea to get funding directly from people without the politics and red tape of traditional grant writing. I even made a video for this project (my first ever!) which is also kind of exciting. Anyway, I really hope all of you have a look even if you are not able to contribute anything financial at this point. All support, financial or otherwise, is very welcome. However, if you do pledge $10 or more then you receive some of the artwork created for this project. The more you pledge, the more substantial the reward. At $40 you receive an etching, at $100 you receive 3 etchings, at $400 you receive a bound suite of 6 etchings. If you're not hip to art prices, these are pretty reasonable. Plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting a pretty cool idea.

I have until January 23, 2011 to reach my funding goal of $2,010. If you pledge and the project goes then your pledge is transferred to my account and I am off an running. You will only be charged AFTER the January, 23rd deadline. If you pledge and the goal is not reached then nothing happens. No charges. It's an all or nothing deal. I've posted my video down below. The whole description of the project can be found at:


Thanks folks and please spread the word!

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Project to be launched very soon

This is just a quick blurb to let folks know that I will be launching a do-it-yourself grant through the website, kickstarter.com. It will be entitled "A Visual Life in the Roaring Forties". The result of this project will be a series of original etchings, paintings and drawings visually chronicling my time here in New Zealand, both temporally and geographically. I am very excited about this project and the way it will be funded.

It relies on funding from the kickstarter network and from my social network. In other words, from people who know me and might like to get involved financially with this project. You sign up at different dollar levels and I promise to give you some artwork at the different funding levels. I have a funding goal that must be reached in a certain amount of time. If I don't reach my goal with enough dollars then nobody gets billed or has any obligations. If I do reach my goal then the whole thing is a go. More details to come, but let's build some momentum by spreading the word!! Many thanks and stay tuned.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Art and Life: What Instigates Creativity?

"Art" as a label for what is in museums, galleries, etc. has been a source of contention and debate for many people for a long time. It hasn't always been this way. Historically, the label of "artist" has been only used for a few hundred years. Prior to the Renaissance in Western art, "artists" were not even known. They were simply craftsmen who filled orders for the church and were not even allowed to sign their work as it was intended to fill a strictly theological role. Nowadays, "what is art" is fodder for art books and late night discussions at art schools and hosts of other venues. Mostly, I hate this discussion because ultimately, for me, it is a matter of personal taste. There are so many people advocating so many schools of thought on this subject that there is an argument to defend anything as art. I just chalk up stuff I don't like or doesn't appeal to my sensibility as bad taste. Sure people can call it art but it's just art I don't like. Art is ultimately a label, albeit one that has lost its way and is far more subjective than say a "tomato" or "chain saw".

circa 2001, spit bite etching with soft ground

With that being said, I can only talk about how my work has evolved and how I view the creative process. I have always drawn landscapes in some capacity. Mostly, landscapes from life and mostly in a romantic/realistic vein. Back in the late 1980's and early 1990's when I was really applying myself to generating images and finding my style and voice, these landscapes were done from life, were heavily worked and reworked and generally took a long time. A long time then was a few weeks of sustained work on an etching plate. I loved the time consuming aspect of etching and still do. I have equated it to the work of a monk transcribing a manuscript. It is the transformation of physical labour into a spiritual act. The work is the enrichment. It is my devotion to a place and a time in that place. I was certainly after an image and a lot of work was devoted to making the image work. Composition, value range, texture, light and a host of other formal concerns were instrumental in the development of this body of work. But I really loved the PROCESS of putting the pieces together. The laying down of grounds, the etching times and the scraping back into the plate were as important to maintaining my connection to the work as the image. The work itself, exclusive of an end result, holds meaning.

"Banishment",2008/2009 oil and collaged etchings. One of the first landscape/
figure hybrids

Back in those days, I was not married and without the very broad responsibilities of being part of a family. So throughout the 1990's I generated about 50 or so of these very labour intensive landscape etchings. It still is by far the most productive era of my artistic life, in terms of raw output. In 2003, I got married and soon afterward started a family. This effectively put an end to these large landscape etchings. I simply had no time to get these done. About this time, I started painting much more. I also began the smaller line etchings of insects, birds and small landscapes. Looking back, I don't think I was searching for a new way of working or new imagery, it just simply evolved based on how my life evolved. I had no moments of angst or regret at how my art output slowed or that I was no longer able to do the involved landscape etchings. I was still making art, still reveling in all the things that drew me to the creative process of making pictures. I was simply adjusting my bearings based on where I was.

"False Modesty" 2007

The changes in my life are directly related to the changes in my work. A new group of images can be chronologically linked to momentous events present throughout my life and I think this will always be the case. A very interesting development in this awareness of how and why I create images is that, for the first time in my life, I think I am consciously aware of this phenomenon. Back in my twenties and early thirties I was so focused on getting things done that there was very little time for reflection. Now I can look at work over time, see this development and look FORWARD to how my work will inevitably change.

"Visitation" 2009

Soon my two kids will both be in school full time. This means five days a week I will have full days to work. Maybe I will teach, but I know that I will have a huge amount of daylight to spend in the studio. Will I go back to working on some of the old style landscape etchings? Will the paintings get bigger? Will the figures continue to pop up? I'm not sure. But I do know that I am around the corner from finding some of this out. It's kind of like waiting for Christmas morning.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My new favourite Painting

Being in new places has a multitude of advantages. One of these is the opportunity to encounter new art. This lovely little portrait by Lord Leighton is one of my regular stops whenever I visit downtown Christchurch. This will not be in many art books or on many lists of masterworks but it is such a beautiful piece of work I can't help but give it a disproportionate amount of my time during every visit to the art center here in town. I hope to post more of these little gems....

" by Lord Frederic Leighton 1874
25 centimeters x 35 centimeters

Sunday, November 7, 2010

America's Next Top Artist

In my early days (about 15 or so years ago), I entered a lot of competitions to build up my resume. An unforeseen perk of all this competition entering was I won a few prizes. "Cloudy Water, Tryon Creek" was my real go-to print back then and it got me a few hundred bucks, some pretty ribbons and a publication to boot. This particular print is drawn onto such a thin piece of copper that I could probably fold into a paper airplane without much trouble. It was the source of weeks of frustration and was almost abandoned until some fine friends at the now sadly departed, Inkling Studio in Portland, Oregon insisted I rescue it from the scrap heap and push it a little farther. I'm glad I listened to them.

Nowadays, I hardly ever enter these competitions. Primarily because they have an entry fee and they require you to ship work to the show's location. Both are expensive enterprises and I have gotten a bit more selective. One that I did enter recently was for "American Artist" magazine. Now this is a publication that I hardly ever look at but the prizes were really impressive and there was a separate category for printmaking. I knew that this was a magazine that heavily focused on painting and drawing and I figured my realistic style would have a chance in the quiet little print category. I ended up in third place which got me $500 worth of really nice printmaking paper and a bunch of other art supplies. Not bad for the thirty dollar entry fee....
The print I entered for this competition was another Tryon Creek print. I think by the time 2003 had rolled around (which is when I finished this print) I had been along every bank of Tryon Creek. A wonderful place to be sure, but beware of the stinging nettles!

Competitions can be good, but I am very, very selective about what I do these days. Look at the costs, the potential prizes and the exposure.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


(both in mid to early stages of completion)

For about the past four or five years, I have been working steadily on some figurative work. As you've seen in a few previous posts, I have always approached the figure through drawing.

(left) copy after Leonardo
(right) early drawing stages

But recently, as I have read about Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt and some others I have been being very deliberate about learning some technical methods dealing with rendering the human figure in paint.

(left) draw from photos
(right) hands and feet deliberately enlarged, very tentatively titled "Colossus"

As these technical experiments progressed I became more interested in combining the figure and the landscape and seeing what emerged from this. My last show in Portland in 2009 included about seven or eight of these figure/landscape combinations and now the itch has returned.

work from my solo show at Guardino Gallery in PDX

The ideas swirling in my head concerning this intersection involves both a human connection to the land and a separation from the land. The modern world and the emergence of technological reliance makes it harder and harder to truly connect with our natural environment.

I'm interested in old mythological and religious narratives involving figures and landscapes and I think the creation of some new, personally significant visual stories along these lines is where this is all headed. Stay tuned.

almost done?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Etching: REVEALED!

When I talk to people in general conversation, I often get blank stares. This is my fault and I apologize to all who have been victimized by my lack of clarity. I get even more blank stares when I tell people that I am a "printmaker". And more yet when I tell them I am an "etcher". So let me take this moment to clear this matter up.

Printmaking is a general term used to describe all the technical possibilities for creating a print. A print is any image, text, etc that is produced on one surface or matrix and then TRANSFERRED to another. Some examples of printmaking techniques include etching, linocut, woodcut, lithography, screenprint, photography and a few others. With etching, which is what I do, the drawing of my bird is scratched (or etched) into copper. To print it, I rub ink into the etched lines and run the copper plate through a large press and the image is transferred to paper.

Etching is also called "intaglio" printmaking which is an Italian word meaning "to cut into". When you hear the word "etching" used correctly it means that the copper (or whatever metal is being used) was dipped into some sort of corrosive liquid to achieve the lines. Usually this liquid is nitric acid, hydrochloric acid or in my case, ferric chloride. Ferric chloride has the advantage of being non-toxic. There are lots of different ways of making marks when you are intaglio printmaking, some of which I will go into in future posts. But for now, this should give you a pretty decent idea of what I do....right?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Art and Business

In case people are not familiar with my circumstances, I'll give a brief rundown of the last year or so before I get into the topic at hand. Last year, we moved to Christchurch, New Zealand from Portland, Oregon. "We" being myself, my wife and two small children. It was and still is a fantastic adventure. The country is beautiful, the people are lovely and overall the experience is very rewarding.

With that being said, there are some things that have definitely changed and not necessarily for the best. One of those things is my "career" as an artist. In Portland I was working 12-18 hours a week teaching at various art colleges (or Unis, here in New Zealand) around town. I loved the hours, the pay, the environment...pretty much everything about my working life. The pay enabled me to have a productive studio schedule as well. Even with small kids I was still able to get a solo exhibition every year. Now, moving across the world pretty much assures that you will be starting from scratch and that is exactly where I am. I knew this would be the case but it still doesn't change the fact that building an art life from the ground up is a very long, slow and difficult process. I have a resume of work and exhibitions which helps but nobody knows who I am as far as New Zealand goes. Which brings me to the topic at hand.

I have decided to try and become more of a businessman. Within the context of creating art, the idea of marketing yourself, soliciting show ideas, etc is a very odd concept for most artists. I know very, very few artists who are good at it. Adequate is a better word to describe how artists tend to muddle through the business side of art and that pretty much fits my situation. I do what I have to do to get my work out there and that's about it. Being in the middle of the South Pacific makes you a bit more resourceful and I have decided to swallow my ineptitude, apprehension and give the enterprise a legitimate shot. Of course, the internet makes things so much more incredibly accessible but it really is about building relationships. Relationships with galleries and the people in them, relationships with potential collectors whom you rarely ever meet in person and relationships with other artists trying to do the same thing. I don't have much of an indication how any of this will pan out but my basic strategy is to get my work in front of as many people that might be interested as possible. I have sold on Etsy.com since 2007 with initial success and am revitalizing that effort. I have joined a smaller site called Artfire which conducts their web searches differently and this is proving slow going at best but by all accounts it is a six months to a year proposition. I have started this blog, have developed a Printman Page on Facebook and have tried to link them altogether to give myself some sort of presence on the web.
The most noticeable thing I have encountered in this process is how different the two sides really are. The business side of art feels like a social mask, a role I am playing, whereas the creative side is the comfort and fulfillment side. Don't get me wrong, I "like" the business side in that it is a problem to be revealed and hopefully solved but it feels foreign. The trick is finding the balance.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Drawing from Drawings

I have always done copies of other artists work. There is so much information and work there to use and learn from. It is kind of like an excavation of the thought process of the artist and we learn by seeing and doing from things that have been done before us. So here's the drawing that I did yesterday from Michaelangelo's study for the Libyan Sibyl. The Sistine Chapel in Rome holds the final result.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Goal: Draw Every Day

Recently, I lost my studio. On September 4, 2010 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck here in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was quite a shocker but all in all we weathered the storm relatively unscathed. However, the building that housed my studio and allowed me access to a nice little etching press was severely damaged and is off limits.

I had just geared up a nice suite of prints and was looking forward to making more. This studio was also a wonderful space to work on some very big paintings as well but the universe seemed to have other plans.
So what to do? Confined to my makeshift home studio and after perusing through the sketchbooks, I have come up with a plan. Draw every day. No matter what. If things look good, I may post them to my etsy site and see if there is any interest. Regardless, I will be drawing every day. And you can hold me to it. Check back for regular progress reports.

The first day of the rest of my visual life....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sketchbook

Drawing is the basis of all my work. I draw incessantly. I was thumbing through some of my sketchbooks (which I made myself, thank you very much) and was reminded of how diverse the ideas for images can be.

Sometimes things are worked out very loosely and others are more carefully rendered. The source material varies from working from life to Old Master copies to pure invention.

Here's a few snippets from the last few years. Figurative work and portraiture has been my obsession of late as you can see.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thanks to George Inness

I think I have come up with a reoccurring theme that I would like to visit occasionally: The tribute. Every now and again, I'll talk about an artist that has influenced me, that I love to look at or just plain inspires. I think George Inness is a good place to start.

He is oftentimes affiliated with the Hudson River School of 19th century American painters but his path veered off into a very personal direction as he aged. His early paintings were very much in keeping with the Hudson River School's vision of a New American Wilderness, one that was both unique to Europe's but also tamable and ordained by God to be a possession of humankind.

Later these
controlled, manicured landscapes evolved into very personal visions of specific poetic moments. Kind of like spiritual capsules of a moment of communion. He held similar religious and spiritual beliefs as Walden and Thoreau and there is a wonderful book that talks about this in much more depth than I will. With this change in ideas about landscape came a marked change in style and technique. To briefly summarize this change, he loosened up. His marks became more broad and "painterly". There was less emphasis on specific human influence in the landscape. It was a generalization of forms and space that might be better viewed as an effort to make the place more universal. More of a shared landscape, less specific.

I have yet to encounter a landscape artist that has inspired me more and never loses impact over time than this fellow. Enjoy the images.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Opening Salvo

First, a little bit about my background. I have a Bachelor of Arts from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I also have an Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from the University of Georgia in Athens. I bring up these two pieces of paper first not because they have shaped my work more than anything else but rather, they have forced me to establish my "perch" and stick to it more than anything else. Being alive in the 21st century and doing the work that I do are oftentimes at odds with what is going on in the proper world of art. Especially in academia, where being part of the curve or ahead of it is a constant source of pressure. My work is not part of this curve but rather a reflection of the arc of my own personal experience. I have never identified with the urban, post-modern and slightly cynical outlook of so much of the current art scene. Let me elaborate a bit further...
My view of art in a very broad sense is an idea contained within or blended with a medium that complements, supports or otherwise enhances the idea. There is a balance between the two. Technique matters in the context of supporting the idea. Today, thumbing through most current art mags (ArtForum, Art in America, Etc) and reading a blurb or two but mostly just looking at the pictures, I come to the very swift conclusion that technique, process and the actual building of an idea with materials does not matter much at all. If THE IDEA is current, profound, groundbreaking or whatever adjective curries favor that week, then the work is validated. The idea is EVERYTHING. I did not learn to "paint" in school. I taught myself. And I think this is because the nuts and bolts of color mixing, use of mediums, building a painting with value and the host of other technical processes necessary to make a picture and understand how painting evolved historically is not valued or even known by many artists anymore. This is a profound loss to arts education and is creating generations of artists who think relevant art history began around World War II. I have seen students with advanced art degrees who can't draw a figure or even put together an interesting two dimensional composition. You should not have to read the artist's statement or listen to the accompanying audio tour in order to "get" what is presented in front of you. It should first and foremost be a profound VISUAL experience. Where it goes from there......?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Well, Here Goes

This is my first foray into the odd world of blogging. I have mixed feelings about the whole process of blogging but figured I would give it a go. I will try to keep the scope of things here art-related. I am Printman in a variety of places around the web, mostly e-commerce sites like etsy and artfire, so keeping folks up to date on my new work will be one of the functions of this blog. I also have strong opinions about the art world in general so I'm sure I'll be lighting fires in that arena as well. In the meantime, stay tuned.