Thursday, August 21, 2008

In the Newspaper!

This weekend is the debut of my pastels at the Midwest Salute to the Arts, a juried show located here in Southern Illinois. Today, the local paper ran a feature article on me and my work. It was all very last minute! The reporter called me on Monday, we met Tuesday after my school ended, and she wrote it Wednesday so that it could be in Thursday's Lifestyle Section. Whew! After a two-hour interview complete with a photographer, I was pleased with the article (despite two typos!). See the link above to read it. How did I end up being the one artist chosen to be highlighted? Pure luck? No way! I made sure the right people knew about my work in a way that made my story very intriguing.

But getting the article in the paper got me to thinking about how artists really need to promote themselves. In my last blog, I gave some advice on how to express yourself with galleries, and some of that holds true for getting free advertising, too. As the reporter was leaving, I asked her how she picked me out of all the local artists who will be featured. She said it was because of the press release I had emailed to the paper the week before. Aha!

The trick to writing an effective press release is the spin. For mine, there were several angles I could have taken with this story:
  1. I'm a local artist who will be showing work in the Salute to the Arts (SA). [boring!]
  2. I'm a local artist who will be displaying his work for the first time at SA [better, but not much]
  3. I'm a local teacher displaying my work for the first time [better yet - more interesting]
  4. I'm a local science teacher displaying my landscapes for the first time [science and art together?! WOW!]

As it turns out, this is the angle used. I then wrote 4 short (2 - 3 sentences) paragraphs on topics that could be covered in the article, just to give them ideas, so they could see the potential. It was written in the third person, as if I were writing about someone else (I thought this would assuage my conscience, who was afraid I was bragging too much!). Then I gave them my contact information and my website so they could see more of my work. I had just about given up hope when she called.

So promote yourself! It's not bragging, it's spreading news.

Keep painting!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Gallery Experience

In preparing for this week's Salute to the Arts, I have been in contact with Susan of Gallerie M, the gallery in St. Louis which displays my work. She has been so easy to work with that it made me start thinking about how important it is for artists to have a positive working relationship with their business partners, the galleries who showcase their work.

On September 15th, I will be a featured artist at an open house at Gallerie M. Susan agreed to prepare the advertising materials a little early so that I could hand them out during this weekend's show. Although I haven't seen them yet, I did send some images over so that she could select one for the front of the postcard she will mail to her mailing list. As a last minute addition to all I have going on Friday with setting up for the show opening on Friday, I agreed to drive over and pick up a few hundred postcards. Twenty minutes later, I phoned her back, asking if I could borrow a couple of my paintings on display for the show. She said no problem, she would have them ready with the postcards when I drop by to pick them up early Friday morning. I guess when we're both willing to "scratch the other's back," it is a win-win situation for everyone.

However, I know this isn't true for all artists. Many don't communicate with their galleries, figuring that they are the 'artiste' and simple phone calls are beneath them. I couldn't disagree more. You are there for each other. While the gallery certainly needs the artists' works to display and sell, there are millions of artists out there, so the artist needs to cultivate a friendly yet professional working relationship with their galleries. Off the top of my head, here is a quick list of 5 pieces of advice for artists seeking gallery representation:
  1. In communications, make sure your emails are free of errors - grammatical, spelling, mechanics, etc.
  2. When meeting gallery owners in person, dress professionally. A casual business would be appropriate, I think. If there are patrons in the gallery while you are there, you don't want to give the image that the gallery works with ruffians.
  3. Make sure you can communicate with your audience. Be able to explain your art - what it means, how you do it. And for heaven's sake, don't be offended when you're asked!
  4. Walk that fine line between self deprecation and self aggrandizement. You don't want to seem like a pompous you-know-what, yet you have to be honest about your abilities and your accomplishments. You must have talent, or the gallery wouldn't have contacted you. Be gracious in accepting compliments, be honest about your abilities. No one can fault you for that.
  5. Follow up your visits with a short note - just like your mom used to make you write to grandma after Christmas (or whatever holiday).
  6. Keep your prices in line with what they are at the gallery. You certainly don't want to undercut them, and by the same token you don't want to ruin their reputation by making them seem like a bargain basement. I have a published price list that goes by size, so a 16 x 20 at the show this weekend is the same as it would be at Gallerie M, as it would be if I sold it to my neighbor.

My gallery experience has been very positive, and I look forward to a long relationship with Gallerie M. I hope that your experiences are/will be the same. I would be interested in hearing some of your stories.



Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding Subject Matter - in Canada

Blustery Day 16 x 20 pastel on panel

Every summer, for the last 6 years, I have accompanied teenagers into the Canadian Wilderness. We take high school students into Quetico Provincial Wilderness through an ecotour outfitter Voyageur Wilderness Programme. The Savoie family in charge does an amazing job of educating youngsters in environmental stewardship by example, teaching, and practice. For 7 days and 6 nights, we travel through the wilderness practicing no trace camping in an area where motorized anything is banned. What an exhilirating experience for me and a life-altering experience for them!

With so much beautiful scenery, it's hard not to be inspired to paint. This last July when we were there, we went along a mile-long portage (where you have to carry all your gear from one lake to the next) that bordered some amazing rapids. Since I usually miss all the scenery on a portage with my head stuck in a canoe, I had to make a trip back sans gear to catch some of views. The painting above was done from a photo taken along the portage. The energy experienced in the rapids along the ground and in the clouds flying by in the sky was overwhelming on one level, and quite peaceful on another. One minute I felt very small and insignificant, yet the next I felt as though I was a part of the vastness - the oneness - and that I could just sit and close my eyes...

All that is what I tried to capture in this painting. I started the sky and the spruce trees in my grandmother's basement in Montana, and then finished it here at home in Illinois. Yet every time I make a painting from a place I know, it takes me back, and that's just one of the great things about art.

I just hope that other people make a similar connection. I realize it won't be the same, but perhaps they have experienced something similar in a completely different location. Or maybe this scene just reminds them of a place, or perhaps they just connect to the energy.

Peace, and keep doing what you love,


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Inorganic v. Organic

Every once in a while in painting, you stumble across a roadblock - OK, so it happens a lot. But solving these issues is what make your paintings stronger, and you as an artist more successful. If you can work out your own issues and then internalize them, you will find that the next time a similar issue comes up, you will be prepared.

In this painting of a flowerbox on a houseboat in Seattle, I found that I really wanted to emphasize the difference between the manmade house and the organic flowers. I thought that the best way to do this would be to make the window, the siding, and the flowerbox all have very distinct lines and edges (more on that later!), and keep the lobelia, lavender, and geraniums very impressionistic. Since most of my landscape painting is very loose (see for more of my work), I had to figure out how to make a hard, straight edge for the manmade elements.

In the end, I used a ruler, broke my pastels into pieces with sharp corners, and ran the pastel along the ruler. Without moving the ruler, I then used a finger to rub the pastel into the pumice (I use Gator Foam with pumice powder gesso) to create the hard edge. Repeat on the other side of the shape if necessary, and then fill in the middle as needed. The trick was figuring out the order in which to do the shapes, considering that while pastels are basically opaque, you can still see the undercolors through the more recent layers. Also, I have both very light and very dark values in the window. In the end, I think it worked. I especially like the little details in the window woodwork that can only be enjoyed when looking closely - a sort of reward for taking a second, closer look.

Window Garden 16 x 12 pastel on panel (2008)

Keep Painting!

Pastel Guy