Some time back I wrote a post to inform fellow artists what they can do to encourage sales, behave ethically, and in general help their relationship with their gallery grow.
I always intended to write a partner post from the artist’s perspective: what can our galleries do to be responsive to us, encouraging open communication and trust?
I have for years maintained a positive attitude toward my galleries, always grateful for their hard work and the skills that they bring to their job. At the same time, I am repeatedly struck by certain patterns of behavior that make my life more difficult. My career artist friends are often adversely impacted by exactly the same things.
Just as I am always counseling other artists—and myself—not to make life more difficult for our art dealers, this discussion is centered on how gallerists can avoid behaviors that wear us down and potentially waste time for all involved. Since most of my galleries do avoid these habits most of the time, I know it is possible. (And we need to forgive the occasional lapse, just as we hope that they will forgive ours.)
The pay discussion is always a big one. Many galleries have a set policy of paying for this month’s sales on the first or the 15th of next month. Galleries often argue that, just like any other retail business, they pay artists out of the overall earnings rather than specifically from the sale of your piece. This works out well when/if they pay on time, because the artist can count on when to expect the check, but not so well when the days slide by and your mailbox remains empty.
One thing to point out here is that unlike other retail businesses, galleries don’t have to buy inventory. The artists own the inventory, and when a piece of theirs sells, half of that money is theirs. One gallerist of mine said it best years ago: “I like to pay the artist right away because if that money sits in my account for any length of time I’ll start thinking it’s mine.”
I had a gallery for a period of years that sold my work well but often was very late in paying. The argument from the dealer was that they had to keep the doors open, and so would pay rent, electric, and so on, first. Basically, then, the pay-policy was eventually-after-some-time-has-gone-by-I’ll-start-looking-around-and-see-if-I-have-money-to-pay-you-but-if-not-you’ll-have-to-wait. It was excruciating, the waiting and the not-knowing. They had received payment for their 50% and mine both, and yet I was left to beg for my money—-and was essentially floating them a loan.
This can lead to other kinds of disfunction. The gallery in this case would often avoid my phone calls that were on other matters—things that were directed at bringing us business—because they owed me money and feared being asked. So we both potentially lost money.
Artists calling and nagging about money makes everyone feel bad about each other. But to reiterate an important point: most often we are not demanding nor begging, but simply looking for info on an ETA for our money.
What is my advice to galleries?
-Have a clear pay-policy, whether it’s as-soon-as-the-check-clears or a date next month. If the former–and we all so appreciate the immediate payment–and the gallery has need to wait a week or so to pay, tell the artist. If the latter, send checks out when you say you will. In a busy season it might be hard to find the time to sit down and write a big stack of checks for all of the previous month’s sales, but make it a priority. If for any reason checks will unavoidably be late that month, inform your artists.
-If an artist calls or emails to inquire, give a short answer right away. “Just got paid–sending you a check Monday.” “Waiting for payment.” “In the mail.” “Your contract says the 15th of next month.” Bear in mind that even if the answer is “two weeks from now”, you are giving the artists the consideration of info with which to plan how to pay their bills. And to repeat: it is the artist’s money. It’s not that you need to keep every artist updated on the payment status of every sale, but answering direct questions is a simple courtesy.
Which leads me to another source of stress and feelings of disrespect for the artist.
For all of us who have reached a certain level in our career, we are there because we are responsive to our galleries. I have curated group shows and I regularly organize my mentoring meetings and groups for emerging artists, so I understand well how organizing artists can truly be like herding cats. However, galleries generally cannot operate if artists don’t ship work or send jpegs when they say they will, and those artists who have a pattern of flaking out tend to fall by the wayside.
So when one of my galleries asks me for anything, it behooves me to respond fully and quickly. Sometimes requests could have been made earlier and there would be less stress all around, but those are typical job-related problems. So, if they ask me to jump, I do it right away. If I am traveling without my laptop (which is rare and only for a few days), I do the short reply: “Traveling without access to my files, but I’ll send you jpegs on Sunday evening when I am home”.
The problem comes in when the situation is reversed and I need some info from them. Often my questions have to do with serious planning issues that, just like the gallery, I have to settle so that I know when I am showing where and what pieces are going to which gallery. Sometimes I can wait painfully long for these answers, preventing me from settling dates and artwork for other galleries.
I imagine that part of the issue here is that a number of the artists that I show with may have only a gallery or two, so they don’t have the stress of the juggle. If their show is going to be July or August, it isn’t always a big deal to wait to find out. But for those of us who show with multiple galleries, this comes back to the two-way street: if I am to be understanding that you, the gallery, are juggling multiple artists (as well as clients and PR and so on, of course) and I am not the only one in your pantheon, I would like you to understand that I am juggling multiple galleries, schedules, ferries, accommodations, and artwork. And I want to do right by everybody.
So, advice for the gallery:
If you don’t have the answer to my question yet, please acknowledge the email or phone call. It feels really bad to be ignored. It also is a big waste of energy for one party to have to send reminder emails repeatedly. Again, short answer is fine, “working on it!”, or “we’ll decide by next week”.
A third bit of communication that varies from gallery to gallery is when they notify the artist of a sale. Often, when new to a gallery, I just let this evolve over time and get a feel for their M.O.
But then, just when you think you know that X gallery will email you within a few days of making a sale, you get a check–maybe even a big one—from sales for last month. Well, on the one hand, who doesn’t love a surprise check? But on the other, maybe it is a slow spell and you have been stressing for weeks about where your next check is coming from, so if they had notified you sooner you could have avoided all of that worry.
Have a policy (which some galleries do have, stated in their contract) on when you notify artists of a sale. Within the week certainly seems doable. As a point of trust, we will rarely know exactly when a sale or payment takes place, so we always assume that our galleries are telling us the truth. Period.
(Just for the record, there are several reasons why an artist will promptly take their leave from a gallery. One is if somehow the artist receives reliable info that dates of sales have been fudged in order to avoid timely payment. Another is if a gallery gets caught padding prices and putting the extra in their own pockets. But this post is not about egregiously unethical behavior on the part of a few galleries but instead about unintentional lapses on the part of many that can fairly easily be addressed.)
All of these things come back to communication and making life easier for those around us. Several years ago I wrote this post about communicating when a sale falls through, particularly one that has required a lot of time and effort on the part of the artist:
At the root of this whole discussion is the aspect of power. Do the galleries see themselves as our bosses, or our partners? If it is true that there are way more artists than there are galleries to show them, does this mean that artists are just supplicants, grasping at strewn crumbs?
I have heard of art dealers that look at their artists in that way, but I would not be working with them in any case. Most often, we are appreciated as the cherished talent, the sources of these amazing, unique objects. And if there are others of us eager to fill our spot should we leave a gallery, that doesn’t mean that our personal, artistic terrain can be filled by another. In my experience sensitive gallerists attach to our unique work, and to us.
That said, we are, here at least, acknowledging the power of the purse and of having needed information, while pointing out that galleries are not paying us their money, but only ours, and keeping us informed on what we need to know to carry the partnership forward.
So are any of us perfect? Am I positing that gallerists should never be allowed a slip-up? Not hardly! In fact, the more consistently considerate a gallery has been to me the more I can easily let go of a forgotten email or a perceived error in judgement. This is true in all human relationships, and I hope that others—including my dealers—grant me that leeway as well.
Deep, happy, exhalation—spring is here!
I recently delivered fresh work to Louisa Gould Gallery on the Vineyard. She is currently hanging her first show of the season, including my new work, and then plans a big 15th anniversary show with a reception mid-summer. Here are a few of my additions to the gallery walls:
In other shore news, I am very pleased to announce new representation on Nantucket at the Thomas Henry Gallery. I am still working on the pieces that will be delivered in early June, but here is a sneak preview:
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My solo show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, Atlas/Hudson River Valley, was very well received. I will continue updating the blog post on the show to label what has been been purchased, as the gallery has kept many pieces for follow-up viewing and acquisition. I have also labeled with a G the pieces still at the gallery.
Most of my spring sales have naturally come from this Chatham show, and have included oils, a pastel, monotypes, and a collage—a nice affirmation for all of these explorations. Here a is a handful of examples:
Sold, happily, as a pair:
This show was a wonderful experience for me from every standpoint. Parting words from them when I was done with pick-up—after expressing my deep appreciation for how well-handled every aspect of our interaction was—“happy artist, happy gallery”.
Those works that have returned to my studio are back on my available work post, as well a number of other pieces:
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Iconic Cloud recently came back to me and I just touched it up, brightening both hillside and sky. I’ve done that a few times recently—must be a shift in my mood.
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Here is a schedule of my workshops in Woodstock, Nantucket, and Provincetown. My color-mixing workshop has become very popular with painters of all levels and styles, so some version of that is being offered in the three locales.
I will participate in the Shandaken Studio Tour July 21-22. More on this as it approaches—it is such a pleasure for me to set up my studio as a gallery and host visitors both new and known.
Moving forward, a September show at Julie Heller East in Provincetown and the Luminous Landscape at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck later in the fall. Plus some as yet unknown opportunities will likely arise, as they usually do…
My first fully realized Atlas Project installation opens at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, on March 31st, 2018. Elaborating on my artist’s statement for my discussion below, I am also including photos of all of the work in the show.
Here is the gallery’s press release, nicely weaving together my previous artist’s statement about my paintings with my new Atlas Project statement. Thompson Giroux Gallery and I are very pleased to be pledging a donation from sales to benefit two local land conservancy organizations, a small thank-you to the earth for the beautiful vistas and open spaces that I have been painting for the past decades.
The artworks in Christie Scheele‘s solo exhibition Atlas/Hudson River Valley take the viewer on a walk through the Hudson River Valley’s open spaces from Albany south to Manhattan.
In this exhibition Scheele brings together paintings, drawings, printmaking and mixed media and explores the personal and collective connection between our lives today and our increasingly fragile environment. Scheele continues her immersion into open spacious landscape painting. Using soft lines Scheele allows the viewer to sense and experience a particular place in our local environment; the way the light makes you feel at a specific time of day, how a place has it’s own color palette reflecting memory and process. Scheele’s use of color and atmosphere creates a suspended moment to experience the intangible power of nature.
With each destination on the “Site Map” we are invited to take an intimate look at how process, history and memory play a crucial role in our relationship to our natural environment.
In an effort to support our local land conservation initiatives, artist Christie Scheele and Thompson Giroux Gallery pledge 5% of any sales by the artist during Atlas/Hudson River Valley on view March 31-May 6, 2018 to benefit the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Woodstock Land Conservancy.
Please join us Saturday March 31st from 4-6pm for refreshments and live music by Josh Connors & Otto Gardnier.
Gallery hours: Thursday – Monday 11am to 5pm, Friday 11am to 7pm.
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday
Closed Sunday April 1st
Image credit: Christie Scheele, “Forms of Water”, 2016, Oil on Linen, 30″ x 36″.
Land and water use have been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As these issues become increasingly critical, I have been catapulted —but also eased, nestled— into expanding the environmental discussion that until now has been mostly implied in my work, putting into context my decades-long celebration of the powerful beauty of our planet.
My new Atlas Project maps my work while mapping the world, revealing a web of meaning around and between the individual pieces that I create. The matrix that connects all of my landscape imagery is saturated with memory, both personal and collective. To show these connections, I am working in one thematic grouping at a time, creating a legend, or site map, to each body of work. The Site Map is a key both to a given installation and to the region or theme that it explores.
The Site Map for Atlas/Hudson River Valley, the first of these exhibitions, is created with collage on a Rand McNally road map of the river valley, the Catskills, and our wider region. It contains numbered mini-monotypes of all of the oil paintings on view and corresponding map tacks showing the locale depicted on the map.
Extensions of the Site Map include Mapping Memory, lino/mono prints of regional flora and fauna with written personal observations; a collaged and monoprinted map of the source of the river in the Adirondacks; a collage of the Hudson Canyon, extending 400 miles out to sea from NY Harbor; and a fourth extension discussing climate change and local impacts.
Using drawing, printmaking, pasteling, writing, and mixed-media along with oil paintings, I am exploring the interrelationships of process, history, and memory. These are revealed not only by air, land, and water but also by my materials and personal history as an artist, family and community member, and frequent inhabitant of the outdoor world.
The Atlas Project text is therefore a blend of natural history and personal memory. For the Atlas/Hudson River Valley site map I decided to tuck the text of my stories into an envelope that I created with rice paper. You can see these along the left-hand side of the Site Map, and an open one below:
Other bits of writing get more into the life-cycle of the wildlife depicted. I chose the species included in the map based on my interactions with them but also on a long-standing fascination. We probably all have these — how amazing, to me, is the Red Eft, so bright among the fauna of the NE United States? How cool is the life-cycle? Here is my story about these creatures:
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the salamanders that I caught as a child near Oneonta, NY, are the same creatures as the Red Efts that I greet after every rain or heavy dew on the trails of the Catskills.
They have three life stages: the first after hatching in ponds; the second when they turn from brown to red and lose their gills, traveling on land for several years to find a new body of water. Finally, in their adult phase the tail widens, and they turn back into a greenish-brown color, living and breeding as aquatic animals with lungs to complete their 12-15-year life span.
At eight I was enamored of catching and releasing in a pond that we swam in during summer months. On one occasion I brought two newts home in a mayonnaise jar, stocked with moss and bits from the bottom of the pond. I changed the water every day with nearby creek water and left the jar under a big tree on our lawn, dropping in small insects from time to time.
One day I spotted eggs in the moss. Such anticipation!
A few days later we heard young voices coming from our front yard just after dark, and looked out to see two boys walking away. The next morning, I found my jar empty of water and newts, the eggs drying in the sun.
Printmaking become an integral part of Atlas/Hudson River Valley. Below are two monotype versions of the image used in “Reflected Suns”, exploring the more graphic possibilities of the medium.
And the mini-monotype on the Site Map (placement of these had to do with compositional concerns, as the numbers and map tacks are what identify the precise locales):
The first energy and ideas for this project evolved in 2016. That fall, I was experiencing profound grief over election results and their potential to set policy that will accelerate climate change. I was also contemplating a scheduled residency on Nantucket in February of 2017, and my upcoming 60th birthday later on that year. The second two factors prompted a question—how do I want to expand and deepen my range as an artist? The first, my accelerating concern over the health of our planet, gave me direction.
This extension to the Site Map addresses the issue of global warming:
These two recent monotypes reflect a view of a section of the Schoharie Creek valley in summer and then during the massive storm flooding caused by Irene:
And two additional monotypes of our region:
The Nantucket residency produced a prototype Site Map where I first used the idea of making small monotype prints of the oil paintings to be included in the grouping or show. It is a very rich process, artistically, entering a new world as you are creating it, and also full of the discomfort of facing the unknown. To read about my residency, go to this link to my blog post:
I so loved the collaging-on-a-map process while working on the Site Map that I decided to create some of these as stand-alone art pieces. The first, below, leaves much of the under-map showing, and in addition to pattern and magazine papers; samaras, wasp galls, and other bits and bobs, I hand dyed some of the green papers used for the Catskill Park area.
I live in the High Peaks area of the Catskills, so many of the pieces in this show are images of the mountains, roadways, streams, and of course, the Ashokan Reservoir, seen above in blue within the Park.
Another collage, also of the River, is more tightly composed and with more contrast than the first, and includes the small river towns of Kingston, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie, and Newburg.
For the third, following my own lead with the Site Map extension, I hand-died rice papers in varied blues to reinterpret the Hudson Canyon, the below-water extension of the river itself.
The Hudson River originates in Lake Tear of the Clouds, in a remote area of the Adirondacks, as pinpointed in the upper extension, above. It empties out into New York Harbor:
Many images are Hudson views between NYC and Hudson, NY. The stretch between Poughkeepsie and and Saugerties is well-traveled in the summer by us in our small lake boat. Lower sections are often views from bridges and the train.
This is not a catalogue of all of the wonderful views of the HV and Catskills, but rather an organically created collection of a number of the paintings that I have done over the past 10 years or so of our region. In this way, the grouping is a bit of a retrospective.
I am frequently hiking and driving around both the East side of the Hudson, into the Berkshires, as well as the West side, reaching into of the foothills of the Catskills, providing sources for some favorite views of the river itself as well as farm fields and hillsides.
The final study done for a large piece in oil, now sold, inspired by the Maya Lin Wave Field at Storm King:
My upcoming groupings will include Atlas/Forms of Water, and Atlas/Cape Cod, the former creating overlap with the place-based themes and requiring a different solution for the map (I am thinking maps, actually).
I alternate between focusing on aspects of this work that I am currently inventing and my continued immersion in my open, spacious landscape paintings, looking to draw it all together into a cohesive whole, mirroring the wholeness of life on earth.
A link to the Violet Snow article in the WoodstockTimes:
Many thanks to those who have helped this project along: my husband, Jack, for design and paste-up help; Kate McGloughlin of the Woodstock School of Art for teaching me monotype techniques; Mary Emery for inspiring my rediscovery of printmaking; The Artists Association of Nantucket for hosting the residency that advanced this work; Polly Law for brainstorming titles (including “Atlas Project” itself) and language with me; Jenny Nelson for being my sounding board; Loel Barr for showing me some of her cool collage techniques; Thompson Giroux Gallery for planning and mounting this large and complex solo show; Geoffrey Rogers for his expert framing; and Mark Loete for the perfect photographs of the Site Map and extensions.
Hello all, happy oncoming 2018! I have quite a lot to report in this year-end update, both from 2017 and about events on the schedule so far for the coming year.
Many folks have asked me to send out a save-the-date for my Atlas/Hudson River Valley show opening on Match 31 at the Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham New York. I’ll do a separate email soon so that it’s easy to find in the inbox, but here on my blog I can talk about the exhibition in more detail.
This will be the first full-size installation of one of my Atlas Project-themed exhibitions. Later themes might be Atlas/Cape Cod or Atlas/Forms of Water, but I an delighted to be launching this within my own Hudson River Valley/Catskills, both as the theme and the locale of the show. Included will be monoprints, mixed media/collages, and pastels along with the oils, and the Site Map that explains it all.
The Site Map is an integral part of an Atlas Project installation, a map of the show itself which includes tiny monoprints of all of the oil paintings in the show overlaid on a collaged map of the Hudson River Valley. It includes numbered map tacks that show the locales of the scenes depicted; river towns and bridges and a key to the map and the show.
This map will have to be finished and photographed at the last minute, when I am sure of exactly which oil paintings are going into the show.
A side panel is Mapping Memory/Wildlife of Particular Interest that includes lino-monoprints and some text of my associated personal memories. Three panel extensions coming asymmetrically off the right side and top and bottom of the main map include a collage/lino/mono of the upper Hudson, the source of the river in the Adirondaks; another of Hudson Canyon, which continues out to sea from New York Harbor for 400 miles; and a third comprised of short discussion and collage/prints of three local trees endangered by climate change.
New Blog Post
In current news, I have recently published a blog post on the intersecting themes of teaching, independent studio practice, and group dynamic for the artist:
I welcome any comments on the post!
Many Things Nantucket
In January I will again be part of an exchange between artists of Woodstock and Nantucket, this time to take place at the Woodstock School of Art. We will be working together for three days in the graphics studio; doing a few studio visits and looking at the historical connection between the two arts colonies; eating and schmoozing. (What could be better?)
Part I of this exchange took place in September at the Artists Association of Nantucket with a show of the four Woodstock-area artists seen below, who had all taught and/or done a residency there:
The plan was for the four of us to show up for a closing reception and artist’s talk on September 23rd, and my plan was to to do a tour of the Cape and Islands with my husband, starting in Provincetown, checking in with and delivering to or picking up from my three galleries in the area.
Just as we were coming onto the Cape Tropical Storm Jose was approaching the area, causing concern over the Cape bridges closing as well as cancelled ferries. From Provincetown we saw some amazing sights during the storm, particularly the surf from the high dunes on Longnook Beach.
We had a ferry reservation to continue on to Martha’s Vineyard, and from there I had another res for the fast ferry to Nantucket a day later.
Three of the four artists did manage to get on Cape, or in my case, to Martha’s Vineyard, and then reschedule ferries to arrive for our reception at the AAN. We suffered a rocky crossing and then enjoyed a lovely evening of spirited discussion and camaraderie.
I also arrived in time to pay a visit to my new gallery on Nantucket, Thomas Henry Gallery. I am looking forward to painting some large, open seascape and marsh imagery for the 2018 season there:
My residency at the Artists Association of Nantucket in February was one of the highlights of 2017 for me, beautifully intensive and key in advancing the rubric for my Atlas Project:
The below was my second prototype for a site map for a grouping of Atlas Project work. From here I was able to take what works best (the monotype thumbnails of paintings that I had done) and change things that I didn’t (particularly the text) for the next map, for Atlas/Hudson River Valley. I would also love to return to Nantucket for a more fleshed-out exploration of of the theme.
Fall Studio Demonstrations
This fall I did three second-Saturday demo/open studios, starting in October. During the first I worked on small oil-on-paper pieces, like this:
The below I developed during the November demo, which had the theme of working large in oil. I had a nice group who I can only describe as riveted, watching for about two and a half hours while I painted and explained. Then the mood shifted to jolly when I called for a break and lively conversation ensued over a glass of wine.
The slightly textured surface of this piece is something I love to do every so often, allowing a little more of the underpainting to show through, creating a subtle vibration.
Here is a link to the video created by the Woodstock School of Art from a painting demonstration that I did there a few summers back:
For the last demo, in December, I worked in pastel, completing both of these during the two afternoons:
Other Highlights from 2017
I had a successful show last winter/spring with my gallery of 20 years, Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck. It is such a pleasure to work with Albert and Joanna, who are also friends and neighbors in our Hudson Valley arts community.
Here is a link to my post on the show, updated to label pieces that sold later in the year, as well as those that went during the show (the others are, of course, still available):
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In April I went to Florida to do a large painting for my friends Karen and Len:
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During my third year with Louisa Gould Gallery and my 18th or so showing on the Vineyard, we had the kind of year that the artist really looks for. I had some relaxing off-season visits that gave us more time to connect. The crazy Cape and Islands tour in September with Hurricane Jose was followed by several days of sun/fog/sun/fog, rolling in and out, that had even islanders exclaiming. This started as I was leaving Nantucket on the ferry, included a wild rainbow at sea, and continued into the next day while I photographed favorite and new locales on MV and Chappy with my husband. There will be paintings to follow!
This piece, which I delivered to LGG the next month, was of a moment just after the fog cleared.
In 2017 Louisa and I sold work big, medium, and small and in a range of palettes and formats. When this happens, I feel truly appreciated and at home in the gallery. The below are a few that found new homes since my last post.
Older Favorites Find New Homes
In the past several months I have been delighted to see a number of pieces that, despite generating admiration, have lingered too long in gallery or studio leave my walls for others:
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The Luminous Landscape at Albert Shahinian Fine Art continues through the month of January, closing with a last reception on January 27th. I have several pieces in the show and many more in inventory, accessible for viewing. I look forward to the reception, which is also a 20th-year anniversary party, an opportunity to enjoy the warmth of our arts community during the winter months.
En Masse, the dynamic small works show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, continues to January 7th. They have been generating anticipation for my spring show with the many small works they have of mine seeded throughout the gallery, as well as larger pieces in inventory. One of my last sales of 2017 was Blue Tidal Pool, one of my favorite paintings from the past decade:
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I have a new workshop at the Woodstock School of Art, rescheduled for March 3rd-4th. The theme, somewhat more descriptive than my workshops that emphasize formal elements, is for students to create a suite of paintings of the four seasons.
Many representational painters explore a zone on the spectrum of realism, on one end, and very abstracted imagery, on the other. I have often emphasized the abstract in my teaching, feeling that the go-to for landscape painters early on is to try to copy everything they see within a scene. So my approach is to encourage students to think instead about the needs of the painting, inventing an image that is not a copy but a new reality.
In the past year I have been closely examining my connection to place through my Atlas Project. The theme of this new workshop, more descriptive than abstract, may have emerged from these musings. That said, students will be focusing their attention, with my help, on all of those formal elements in order to create compelling, personal paintings.
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I look forward to a focused, productive year ahead. We have much work to do on the national level, and also need our creative retreats more than ever. I hope you enjoy yours, and am filled with gratitude that you have supported mine. ♥
Lately I have been musing about how, as teacher and mentor, my ongoing job is to instruct and support, while my long-term goal is to nurture the confidence that leads to independence. The ability to solve one’s own creative problems springs from having the integrated information, skill set, and resoluteness to do so. By facilitating all of this, the teacher’s job is to work one’s self out of a job.
Most teaching is done in a group setting, and then camaraderie, cross-pollination, and sometimes competition enter into the learning process. The group dynamic is both a draw and a distraction.
Artists most often work in the solitude of their studios, which can be a major adjustment for those new to the process who are struggling with issues of a steep learning curve, motivation, and self-confidence. Most of my students and mentees are fiercely drawn to art-making, but then wonder why they have a hard time getting into and spending time with their studio practice. This leads to the undermining fear that if they were the real deal, true artists, they would be consistently highly motivated. Or at least have the discipline to get on in there, no matter how they feel.
Drawn from conversation with many dozens of artists over the years, my observation is that a perceived lack of motivation is most often internal resistance that stems from very common fears: fear of failure, fear of success, and most of all, fear of meeting one’s self. And therein lies the importance of the solitary activity — meeting one’s self is the life work of an artist or thinker, and will rarely be accomplished in a group setting.
The habit of the studio lies, therefore, in the discipline. There are various ways to get yourself over the resistance, something that I discuss with students and mentees. And once you’ve done this a few hundred times, the resistance fades. For many years now, my studio positively beckons, but I do remember being in my 20s and having to summon willpower to leave my apartment and walk to my studio in Union Square in NYC, as happy as I was each and every time when I got there.
The downside to being alone in the studio is that artists are working in isolation to the point where they can get locked up inside their own heads, losing track of the commonality of our problems, aspirations, and fears. That is when the group camaraderie is needed — some honesty, some laughs, communication and idea-sharing on the subject that we hold dear.
What is too much solitary exploration, and what is too little?
This comes down to the varying needs and goals of the individual. Some students aspire to great heights of skill and originality; others might be engaged in open exploration of the path, seeing what evolves; and still others are in it simply for the process. These mindsets can also change over time. In all cases, progressing in skill and understanding is the process over the long term, and is the common denominator.
But how we, as teachers, deal with the differing needs of our students is key. It is all too easy to be problem-solver-in-chief. It is much harder to assess where each artist is in their process — a moving target — and provide what is needed, when it is needed.
This might be a lot or a little, perhaps just planting a small seed and encouraging the student to grow it. As the soup of information thickens for a particular artist, they need less advice and more reminders of what they already know, and sometimes a question in answer to their question is most productive.
Some folks do need more reassurance than others —i t is hard, for instance, to absorb information while in the throes of anxiety. And I have often had students who enter my workshops with plenty of ability and a healthy awareness of it, who are coming to me to kind of top off their information. There are always many variables.
Teaching in any form is as much about the student as it is about the subject matter, but the subject matter is the vehicle. An experienced tracker and tracking teacher once told me that his students arrive in the woods looking for transformation, but he focuses on the tracking and lets the transformation take care of itself. This tends to be my approach, especially with painting, which, as an activity, is a challenging and rich world of its own.
That said, my next blog post is going to be on a topic that comes up frequently with my students — how easy it is to get locked into a mental loop of running yourself down. My first yoga teacher used to call this the “crap tape”, a litany that we start reciting in our heads when the mood slides downward. So there are times when I am fully prepared to step aside from the subject at hand — painting or art career — and talk about this emotionally treacherous habit that undermines any endeavor.
Artists need to follow a quiet, solitary, ignore-distractions path when they set to work, even when they are in a group setting. Sometimes we can get into the zone more than others — no guilt or self-blame (avoiding the crap tape). But distractions are increasingly a way of life, and can become a habit that destroys focus, the fertile underpinning of creativity.
“‘All of humanity’s problems,” the French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in 1654, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Three centuries later, the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky shared his single most urgent piece of advice to the young: learn to enjoy your own company. And yet today, in the golden age of solo living, Pascal’s words ring all the more urgently true and Tarkovsky’s counsel seems all the more unattainable. The age of Social Everything makes the art of solitude appear increasingly difficult to attain, even terrifying.”
~Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
Emersion in our chosen practice is what we need to ground ourselves so that ideas can flow. Following a creative thread takes time, thought, trial and error; the slow-food method of art-making. Through instruction and group learning, students can cultivate and enhance the habit of concentration. From needing substantial help from their teacher, they can progress to consulting their own thoughts and problem-solving toolkits.
We are ethically, as teachers, responsible not for creating a scenario where the student needs us forever and always, but for nurturing and informing each student according to their needs until they can, ideally, work independently.
It is bittersweet to see our students leave us to go it on their own. But we should be proud of that moment, the moment when, for a particular student, we have done our job well and made ourselves obsolete.
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See my blog post on creativity and happiness for more: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/creativity-and-happiness/
This spring my mind has been on many of the seasonal imperatives, like creating new work for my galleries on the Cape and Islands and sorting through and shipping or delivering their selections. It has also, after a huge jump-start on my Atlas Project during my residency at the Nantucket Arts Association, been very much on advancing that exploration; and the spring has been spiced up by a few other new projects.
I have scheduled a talk to discuss my Atlas Project for July 15 during the Shandaken Artists Studio Tour, 4:30-6pm. I am currently developing the third sequence, Atlas/Hudson Valley segment. This means that, in addition to other work in my studio, I will hang a grouping of each of the sections that I have been working on this year: Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow; Atlas/Island (Nantucket); and the most extensive sequence to date, the Hudson River and Catskills work and mapping thereof.
In my studio work progresses on my third prototype map for this grouping, which will include mini-monotypes of the paintings involved; maps of various sorts of the area; and a number of other elements, both descriptive and visual. I am hoping that this map will be the working template that clicks for me so that I can use it for new groupings/exhibitions going forward. This involves lots of trial and error, applied problem-solving and then experimenting with the materials (maps, acrylics, printmaking, rice paper, collage, river mud, etc.).
I have found that when I pose myself a complex creative problem to be solved, following a simple process works quite well. I start by seeing how far I can think my way into it, often using moments when I am driving or walking, and when I hit an aspect or aspects that stump me, I plant those as a seed, and then let go of the conscious effort. Some time later—usually weeks—the answer will pop into my head, my subconscious having been at work on it all the while, sometimes aided by new information that comes my way in the interval.
Here is where I am so far with the latest Site Map and associated prints:
Above and below are a few of the Hudson River & Valley/Catskills paintings that are part of the new sequence:
My new series is bringing me ever closer to the many aspects of the natural world that I have in the past observed, researched and delighted in. Which of these things and how they can manifest in the work is the adventure. As is true of most meaningful new endeavors, the space this holds for me is both stimulating and disquieting.
My first gallery show of Atlas/Hudson Valley is scheduled for 2018 at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
To view more oil paintings that are currently in my studio, click here:
During spring I am always preparing to deliver or ship new work to my galleries in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and/or Cape Cod. Below are some new pieces at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. She always has a beautifully installed grouping of my work on display throughout the year, so please stop by if you are on the island.
My residency at the Arts Association of Nantucket in February resulted in many advancements in my problem-solving curve for the Atlas Project; a number of small paintings; and some monotypes (see my blog post on the residency):
The five monotypes hanging below are a the results of printing sessions in both Woodstock and Nantucket.
And a few others:
See more of my prints and pastels here:
In April I flew to South Florida to do a large painting for friends with a new house there. I managed to pack in one big suitcase everything I needed, including the 16″x20″ version of the wave image that I had painted ahead of time. The one thing that did not fit in my suitcase was the 48″x60″ stretched linen canvas, which we had shipped from my wonderful stretcher-makers in Vermont, Brickyard Enterprises.
I had exactly one week to do this large piece and so, concerned about the possibility of things going wrong, I put in long days for the first several, working under an overhang in the pool enclosure.
Happily, nothing did go wrong, so we had a finished piece on the wall ahead of deadline and then I got to play, spending time at the Morikami Gardens and the beach (more wave paintings to come!).
My winter-spring show with Albert Shahinian Fine Art wrapped up in early April. We had a nice run of of two receptions—one at the gallery and one at my studio; a number of sales of pieces small and large, old and new; and an interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal containing questions that I quite enjoyed:
Several of the pieces that went to new homes from our show “Gallery/Studio: A Symbiosis”:
I am teaching four more workshops in 2017, several of them new. In my workshops I emphasize composition as well as color, and share not only my techniques, but also an eclectic delight in many styles and aspects of contemporary and historical art.
The Woodstock School of Art:
I have plans for some new pastels in the near future—its a good time of year to approach these, with the studio windows wide open (ah, and I must mention sounds of birds and the creek behind my studio), mitigating any effects of flying dust. Below is a fairly recent one, in which I was pushing the color somewhat.
Over the years I have at times felt pressure from some of my galleries to work brighter. I am very often a moody painter, though I don’t ever want to limit myself to any palette, locale, format, or mood. I do love a bright sunny day, but painting dramatic clouds and subtle, tonal color often draws me, and many of my collectors will follow me into that terrain.
With the pastel above, I set myself the intention of not going as dark along the horizon as I often do in a seascape, and in general keeping the colors more saturated or desaturated with white instead of grey. I wanted to see if I could make myself happy with a lower contrast, brighter image. And I did.
This is turning a request, essentially, into a creative problem. When people ask me how and whether being a full time, self-supporting artist affects my decision-making in the studio, that is part of the answer—that if I feel that I am being nudged in a particular direction, can I turn that into an interesting problem? And after I work that one out, what else can I do that is generated exclusively by, to use Kandinsky’s term, inner necessity?