Artists You Should Check Out - a new series of posts

(I’ve not posted in a while due to life stuff that’s been a bit overwhelming but here I am again hoping to start back up with weekly or at least bi-monthly posts. Thanks for checking back after my absence!)

About once a year, I purge many of the artist Instagram accounts that I follow. This is to keep my feed at a manageable level and it gives the motivation to find new, previously unknown to me, artists to follow. There are several artists that always survive the purge because they continue to inspire and/or teach me. They will be the first artists that I profile in this new series of posts which I’ve creatively named “Artists You Should Check Out.” 

Eventually, I’ll also cover artists that I’ve started following more recently. Not all of the artists that I plan to profile have Instagram accounts so in those cases, I’ll provide links to their websites and/or representative galleries.

Whenever I travel to cities where these artists show their work or have their studios, I try to go see their works in person because it is not at all the same to see artworks in person as viewing them online. Most of the time, it’s much better in person. And sometimes, you may even have the opportunity to talk to the artist in person about their process, which is always fascinating.

I hope you enjoy learning about these artists that I’m inspired by.

Using Evernote to stay organized (and to lessen the chance of losing art ideas)

I used to write down art ideas on various scraps of paper, in random notebooks, on to do lists, in my journal, in emails to myself, in lists of reminders on my phone, basically anywhere that was convenient to me at the moment the idea came into existence. As you can imagine, it was hell to try to make use of them since they were scattered all over the place. And, of course, they often got lost. So last year I got the smart idea to spend hours transcribing them all to a single notebook. I got a nice Moleskine and completed that fairly large task, then patted myself on the back for being uber-organized. About 6 month later, I somehow lost that notebook and no amount of digging through my studio, car, and house have unearthed it (I still go on rampages looking for it sometimes).

At that point, I decided to start experimenting with using the Evernote application as a way to not only compile my ideas but also as a way to manage my slowly growing art business. Evernote is free with limited functionality so I started there but now have a premium subscription so I can use it on my laptop, iPad, and phone - they all link to the same account. There’s also a basic subscription that allows you to use the app on up to two devices.

my evernote notebooks

In addition to Evernote, I have a couple of Rocketbook Everlast notebooks where I can sketch and handwrite notes that then get sent, via the free Rocketbook phone app, to Evernote. Rocketbook Everlasts are like having a set of small portable whiteboards with you because you can wipe the pages clean and re-use them. The have another type of notebook that you can microwave to erase every page. The Rocketbook app can send what you put on the pages to email, text, etc.

It took several months to figure out the best way to use Evernote and my method may not work well for you so be prepared to spend time experimenting. Evernote allows you to create a library of notebooks containing notes. Notes consist of text, images, videos, etc.. You can use whatever kind of organization system you like on top of that. I started out creating several different notebooks for my art notes, one for each category like “Art Planning,” “Art Ideas,” “Art Inventory,” etc. That quickly proved to not be good when I was trying to locate a note. It also created conflicts like where do I put this thing that is an idea about my art business? In Art Planning? Art Ideas? Art Business?

So I scrapped that organization scheme and decided to keep the number of notebooks very small. I currently have only two art-relate notebooks: “Art” and “Art Planning 2019.” I’ll create a new notebook for each subsequent year and hope that they will be useful to comb back through in the many years ahead. There’s also a third notebook that I use for completed tasks across all of my notebooks. I now use Evernote for more than just art-related content. You can see my notebooks in the image above (as well as a sneak peek into potential future blog post topics).

evernote tags

I can get away with only having two art notebooks because I have many tags. Tags make my inner librarian so happy. Yay controlled vocabulary!

First I made a list of tags that were succinct with little chance of cross-over in meaning so that it would be easy to apply the tags to each note. I also wanted to track my pending tasks vs my completed tasks so two tags “pending” and “completed” were necessary. Once I complete a task, I move it into the “z_archive: completed tasks” notebook so it keeps the active notebooks a bit neater. I need to track dates at a high level on some things so “2019” became a tag. And so forth. It took a while to work out the kinks in my tag list but I now only have to make a new one when I add inspiration or tips from a particular artist and want to tag the content with their name.

As I mentioned before and as you can see in my tag list, I now use Evernote for more than just art notes. It’s been of great help with tracking and managing house remodeling projects, gardening plans, my health & fitness, and other areas of life. I use a free version of Evernote for my UX consulting business (not shown here) because I strive to keep that content completely separate from my art and personal life.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is that you can install a free browser plugin for Evernote so that capturing content from the web is quick and easy right from your browser. There are also plugins for several email applications although I haven’t tried any of them.

I can’t think of any negatives to using Evernote other than the ramp up time it will take for you to learn how to best organize your content. Feel free to use my method and let me know if it works for you or if you make tweaks to that method to improve it.

Mid-year Review

Just like with a salaried job, it’s a good practice to conduct an annual review of your art business & practice. I’ve been so-so about consistently doing that but this year decided to do both a beginning of the year planning session and a mid-year review.

In December I made a list of goals for 2019 and I re-visit that list each month to log my progression and to take note of where I’m falling behind. It has been very helpful to get into the monthly habit of doing this. So far I’m on track to meet most of my goals but not all of them.

Working at a “regular” job for 40 hours a week can make meeting your art goals challenging. It’s important to have an achievable plan so you still have time to eat, sleep, socialize, etc. One thing that I’ve not had the time to do much this year has been mountain biking. I miss it so am going to incorporate more of that into the latter half of the year. Another area where I’ve fallen behind is my continuing art education. It’s important to me to always be learning more about art making and while I have been doing that via my practice through experimentation, I’ve not been keeping up with the more formal education as I’d planned.

Hence a mid-year review. In addition to progress checking on the goals set in January, I’ve also reviewed themes such as:

  • Has anything changed since the beginning of the year that impacts the plan for the rest of the year? This year I’ll be working much more doing software design consulting than I have in the past couple of years. It has greatly cut into the time I have for making art so I’m having to be much more disciplined about scheduling time in the studio and planning my studio activities.

  • What has been successful so far about this year? Renting a shared studio space was a 2019 goal and it has impacted my creative life much more positively than I could have imagined. Simply having a dedicated space outside of my home with all of its distractions has increased my focus and productivity. Being surrounded by a community of creative women has also led to more inspiration. All good things!

  • What has been a major roadblock? Is there a way to address/remove it? I’ve had some health issues this past year, which is not typical for me. Mostly the way I’ve dealt with this is to try to be more patient with myself. I don’t always succeed in that but I’ll keep trying.

  • What strategies have I figured out that make me more productive, stress-free, creative, etc? I started using Evernote this year (future blog post!) and have continued to refine my use of bullet journaling (just the basic version, not the doodly one). Those tools plus the beginning of the year planning have helped tremendously with my productivity. I tried to set realistic goals, instead my usual over-achieving ones, so that I don’t get too stressed when I fall behind. So far it’s working well.

  • What should I let go of? I often have too much on my schedule and so I have to make a concerted effort to prioritize and remove some items from my to do list. Sometimes I put them in a holding area sort of list for picking back up someday. Sometimes I just completely remove them - gasp!

  • What have I gained the most pleasure from doing? Could I benefit from doing more of that? I’ve been making a focused effort to do more experimenting and that is starting to pay off. Plus it feels more like playing than working so in addition to learning more about materials and stylistic choices, I’m also enjoying the process.

I hope these ideas help you with your goal setting and task list making. One new thing I added to my to do list while writing this post was to post about my new year planning this December but I hope you will visit again before then.

Art-related Podcasts

I’m a podcast listener. I listen while doing house chores, while walking or jogging around my neighborhood, and whenever I need to get out of my head but don’t want to read or watch television. Surprisingly, I never listen to podcasts while drawing or painting.

Here are my favorite (mostly visual arts) art-related podcasts:

Art & Cocktails: Art podcast featuring casual conversations about contemporary art, creative business and more by Ekaterina Popova, artist and founder of Create! Magazine.

Art Curious: A podcast exploring the unexpected, the slightly odd, and the strangely wonderful in art history. Art history is fun-- and we tell stories to prove it.

Art for Your Ear by the Jealous Curator: Brings you stories from some contemporary artists.

Art Grind: Sharing inspirational and practical insights with established and emerging contemporary artists about what it takes to make it in the art world.

The Art History Babes: Discussion and critical analysis of art historical topics fueled by alcohol.

Artist Decoded: This series is an unabridged documentation of conversations between artists.

Creative Pep Talk: monologs and interviews chocked to the brim with creative performance hacks and fresh marketing tactics.

The Darling Rage: A podcast about creativity, finding your voice, and lots of #RadAFWomen, hosted by internationally collected abstract artist, Molly O'Riley.

Laura Horn Art Podcast: Known for their down-to-earth conversations, each week, artist Laura Horn and husband, Richie, share their experience of making art, running a business and juggling family life.

The Lonely Palette: The podcast that returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time.

Overshare: Honest Conversations With Creatives: In a world of carefully curated portfolio sites and Instagram feeds, Justin sits down with his favorite creatives to get past the highlights and discuss the tough stuff we don't talk about in public often enough.

Perspective Podcast: Each week, Scotty Russell of Perspective-Collective and his guests give you the tools for thinking bigger, overcoming adversity, and making an impact with your work—especially if you're building a side hustle outside your day job.

The Savvy Painter Podcast: A weekly podcast for artists who mean business. Antrese Wood talks to experts in the field about the business of art and how it gets created.

THRIVE Talks Podcast: Being an artist is important but often lonely work. The THRIVE Talks podcast is here to make you feel less lonely with all the ups and downs that come with being an artist.

What are your favorite podcasts about art or art business?

New studio, new charcoal drawing

About a week ago, the place where I rent a shared studio space relocated to a new building. I helped the owner a bit by polyurethaning the tops of our wooden work stations. Ugh, the fumes! I also changed stations since one by the windows became available. Since the move, I’ve been there most days and am so happy with both the natural light I now get from the windows as well as the improved overhead lighting in the new space.

I also started a new drawing a couple of weeks ago and was making slow progress on it until I took it to the studio. I’m hoping to finish it this week and will probably frame this one as I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out. The subject may look familiar because I’ve been slightly obsessed with these NYC fire escapes since list year. I think I’ve drawn this image at least 5 times and painted it 3 times. Will probably paint it at least one more time before I feel done with it. Maybe I’ll eventually write a post about the benefits of doing the same subject matter over and over.

I don’t really hold my pencil like that when I draw although supposedly I should. This drawing is on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board paper. I like this paper for charcoal drawings because the slick surface allows me to manipulate the charcoal much more than on other types of drawing paper. I can apply pressed charcoal, pencil charcoal, or powdered charcoal and then move it around on the paper until I get it where I want it. It’s also easier to lighten areas with an eraser (kneaded rubber or with the essential Tombow Zero Round).

I do charcoal drawings on a slanted surface so the excess powder falls off. To keep from smearing my work, I use either a paper towel as shown here or, more often, a wooden yardstick as a mahl stick. I picked up that trick years ago from James Gurney only I’m too lazy to add the spacer or tung oil. I just rest the tip on the edge of my drawing board and that keeps the stick off the surface of the paper. When I’m drawing on a flat surface, I use an acrylic bridge like he references in the link above.

Once this drawing is finished, I’ll add it to my home page so you can see the final version.

Thrive Mastermind

Recently I was invited to join the Thrive Mastermind group for women (cis, trans, genderqueer, femme-identifying, nonbinary) artists. I’d never heard of a mastermind group before but apparently it’s a thing that’s been around for over 75 years. Forbes has an article that nicely describes it but the page is full of irritating ads so I’ll share an excerpt:

“How does a mastermind work? A group of smart people meet weekly, monthly, daily even if it makes sense, to tackle challenges and problems together. They lean on each other, give advice, share connections and do business with each other when appropriate. It's very much peer-to-peer mentoring and if you are lucky enough to get invited to one, you will most likely see a marked change in yourself and your business.”

Thrive Mastermind is based in Canada and has over 200 members worldwide. We meet once a month via an online video conferencing tool called Zoom. It’s like seeing yourself as part of a Brady Bunch layout.

The_Brady_Bunch.jpg

My group has 10 members including one member who leads the discussions. None of the members are in my immediate area of the US but I travel regularly so hope to meet some of them in person someday.

Each month we fill out a list of questions that we then discuss with the others. This month was mostly spent on introductions but we did discuss why we are participating in the mastermind, one thing we hope to accomplish in the next year of working with the group, and one struggle that we’re currently having. I won’t discuss what other members said but I will say that my current struggle, like many artists with non-art-making jobs, is finding time to do all the things I want to do each day. Winter is easier since I naturally shut down to a smaller world of mostly myself and my art practice but at other times of the year there just seems to be too much to juggle. I’ll probably never completely figure it out but am glad to have other people in similar situations to talk with.

You can learn more about Thrive Mastermind here: https://www.thriveartstudio.com/mastermind

If you enjoy podcasts, I recommend Thrive’s for any makers, artists, & entrepreneurs: https://www.thriveartstudio.com/podcast

Books about color

Moving from black & white or a monochrome palette can be intimidating so here are some books about color that I recommend.

books about the history of color

The first few are mostly about the history of color and pigments which, while maybe not adding so much to technical skills, can still be very inspiring and who doesn’t like fascinating stories such as the origin of “mummy,” a pigment made of…mummies, and the various ways yellow pigments can kill or make you ill. These are listed in the reading order I’d recommend:

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color by Philip Ball

If you are more interested in the techniques of using color, here are some books to explore.

books about color techniques

The New Munsell Student Color Set. The 2nd edition is shown here but there’s now a 4th edition in print (book title link). This is a workbook that helps train your eye to see slight variations in hue and value. I first used it many years ago but regularly return to it since the swatches are great for helping with color matching while mixing paint. Munsell also makes larger learning tools such as the Munsell Interactive Learning Kit. I dream of someday owning a copy of the Munsell Book of Color. Check out the Wikipedia entry for Albert Munsell for a bit more history.

Here are some images from the 2nd edition. It comes with color swatches that you then have to organize as instructed, using a type of dry adhesive. I used StudioTac but Grafix would also work.

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. This is also available as an app which I highly recommend getting for your phone or tablet because you can do the exercises within the app. The book provides exercises also but it takes a bit more effort to complete them. Albers teaches more complex color theory than Munsell and I admit some were a bit difficult to fully grasp and integrate into my art practice. And here’s Wikipedia on Josef Albers for a historical perspective.

Albers 1

Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice by Al Gury. Out of these three color theory books, Gury’s is the most straight forward how-to book. He touches on history of color usage but also offers demonstrations of various painting techniques.

There are many free online color theory & color history resources as well as color theory instructional videos on YouTube. I’ve also found a few color theory instructional videos on for-pay services such as Skillshare, Bluprint, Craftsy, etc.

Water soluable oils

It’s been 6 years since I’ve been able to paint with my beloved oil paints due to not having a safe environment for the fumes that happen with oils, solvents (even Gamsol smells strongly to me), and its associated mediums. My home studio is attached to my bedroom with no intervening door so I don’t want to sleep breathing fumes. And my outside-of-the-house studio space is a share space where fumes are, understandably, unwelcome.

Hence my recent tentative steps into working with water soluable oils. Whenever I start playing around with new-to-me mediums, the first things I do are color mixing studies. A lot of them. Here are some old oil painting studies to illustrate how much effort I usually put into a new medium. Each one of these panels is 8” x 16”:

oil color studies 01

So I’ve just this week begun to do this exercise with the water soluable oils. So far I’ve learned that 1) they have a different consistency from regular oils unless you add water-soluable oil to them. And 2) they dry very fast compared to oils. I’m hoping I’ll figure out the correct ratio of oil medium to paint so I can slow the drying time down to where it suits me best. I almost never paint alla prima although if I continue working with the water soluable oils, perhaps I’ll start exploring that method.

By the way, I learned of this type of color mixing exercise from the invaluable book on alla prima painting by Richard Schmid. That book has since gone out of printing and although you can find copies for high $, there’s a new edition out (that’s still pricey). I’ve not looked through the new edition but I would suspect it’s a valuable to artists as the old.

ALLA PRIMA II: Everything I Know About Painting - and More By Richard Schmid

Mounting watercolor paper to board

Lately I’ve been experimenting with mounting various types of watercolor paper onto cradled board. I like this option for a few reasons:

  • the paper is “stretched” on the board so doesn’t warp when wet with paint

  • the works don’t have to be framed (but can still be framed if desired)

  • the texture of certain thicker papers on the board is pleasing

I learned how to mount paper on board from J.A.W. Cooper’s tutorial and then have tried various papers with varying degrees of success.

Khadi Paper

I was really hoping that mounting Khadi paper would work and sometimes it does but most of the time, the paper itself is the reason for failure. Khadi paper is very inconsistent in thickness so pressing it flat against a board often reveals fairly large bumps that no amount of brayering will flatten out. The few times I’ve done it successfully have resulted in a canvas-like texture that is a dream to paint on. The failures result in much time spent carefully sanding the paper off the board so it can be reused. I’ll continue to try this paper in hopes of someday figuring out a way to consistently get it mounted successfully.

It seems that using smaller boards (9” x 12” or less) works better, I guess because there’s less area to buckle.

The texture of Khadi paper pops out nicely on a board.

The texture of Khadi paper pops out nicely on a board.

Kilimanjaro 140g White Watercolor Paper

Kilimanjaro 140g paper is a dream to mount. I’ve had 100% success each time I’ve tried up to sizes of 11” x 14” - haven’t tried anything larger yet.

Introduction

Hello and welcome.

This blog is where I’ll document my process, experiments, and work in hopes of helping others in the same way that I’ve been unknowingly helped by so many fantastic artists who share their experiences online. I plan to spotlight these artists over the next few months so that you can learn about them also.

A bit about me:

I’m based in Asheville, NC. I’m self-taught although I have taken a few courses and have briefly studied with artists here in Asheville and in Austin where I lived for over 20 years. I work in charcoal, ink, and watercolors.

Thanks for stopping by and come back soon.