Composition for Artists - Part 2

Composition is an important aspect of what we do as artists. In this episode I'll talk about intention; and how to create the type of energy you want in the painting using shape, line and color.

Artists mentioned:

Brice Marden - Cold Mountain Series

Cy Twombly

Philip Guston - The Klansman Series

Elizabeth Murray

Edvard Munch - The Scream

Mary Cassatt

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No part of this video may be reproduced or distributed for any reason without written permission from me. 😎

Composition for Artists - Part 1

Composition is one of the most important things in creating paintings that work.  In this episode from one of my live hangouts, I'll give you some good information; all about focal point, leading lines, contrast, and more! 

Artists mentioned in this episode: Ad Reinhardt, Joseph Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella. 

Also mentioned: "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" by Wassily Kandinsky.

Steve McCurry video on composition: https://youtu.be/9Q8RRB1XpFI

No part of this video may be reproduced or distributed for any reason  without written permission from me.

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It's not called plagiarism. It's called teaching.

Recently I stumbled across a blog post by a printmaker who was pretty angry about one of her students working in a similar fashion to the way she worked.  She refers to students making copies of "her" work using the techniques she uses. Now mind you, this is after she taught them to do it. The students paid her for her expertise and she agreed to teach them how to make prints, in the same way she makes prints.  

This is printmaking, not painting. In printmaking the processes go back hundreds, if not thousands of years.   Granted, you can use fancy materials or innovative cutting techniques. Maybe even come up with a cool new way to etch without using toxic chemicals (see Keith Howard's innovative techniques for non-toxic etching).  But the bottom line is, you are working on some sort of "plate" (whether you are cutting it, etching it, painting it) and transferring the image to some sort of surface like paper, cloth, aluminum, plastic and so on.

Pretty basic concept, right?  Why is this printmaker going on about being "plagiarized"?  Is it because the students used the same color of ink? Maybe the images are similar? I'm not sure I entirely understand the problem.

 "St. Eligius in His Workshop" Attributed to Master of Balaam  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"St. Eligius in His Workshop" Attributed to Master of Balaam  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Medieval Guilds

Students emulating their masters is a long and honored tradition. In the Middle Ages, students or apprentices, would work in a guild under the knowledgable eye of the master, gaining skill and experience with their craft. It took many years to become a master and not until the apprentice could recreate the master's work perfectly, would they be allowed to move into that honored role.  So we now have works "from the school of..." in museums. Remember in the Middle Ages, artisans were mostly anonymous. There were no big artist egos...yet.

Fast forward to the Renaissance and the Artist with a capital "A" is born. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio - we refer to them with one name - like rock stars. And indeed, they were the rock stars of their time.  Stories even refer to Leonardo wearing purple tights. Sounds like Mick Jagger to me.

At any rate, I'm still wondering why the above-mentioned printmaker was so upset.  As a teacher for many, many years I've seen lots of students copy my work. Some of them have even become fairly successful at selling work that resembles mine from a particular period in my career.    I can pick up just about any big glossy art magazine, turn to a given page on a "famous" artist, and find a painting that resembles something one of my students has done. In fact, I recently gave a "blind test" to my advanced painting students. I put two paintings side by side and asked which one was the million dollar painting and which was the one selling online for four hundred bucks.  About half of the class got it wrong.  They simply couldn't tell the difference between an art superstar and a regular working artist.

I love teaching. I love interacting with the students and watching them grow. I love how it impacts my own work - keeps me on my toes technically. I love it when my students are successful and have shows and send me flowers to thank me for helping them. It brings tears to my eyes when I see the light go on for a new student. That aha! moment when they really get it.

So what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. But maybe, just maybe, if you are a teacher and you don't want people to copy your work then perhaps you shouldn't teach them how to do it.

 "Italia 9" Acrylic on Canvas  - Tesia Blackburn

"Italia 9" Acrylic on Canvas  - Tesia Blackburn

By the way, this image right here? That's one of my paintings. Why don't you make a copy of it?

Don't teach people to do what you do if you don't want them to do it. 

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How do I price my artwork?

 "Calliope 3" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

"Calliope 3" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

Here's a question I get a lot: I'd like your help figuring out pricing for the two unusual commissions I've done recently. How should I price my artwork?

For artists, pricing artwork is one of those icky topics we never want to deal with.  We're just so grateful anyone would buy anything from us. Right? Wrong!

If you take the romantic notion that we are "artists" out of the equation and look at your art practice as a business, it makes pricing much easier.  Remember, we are manufacturers of a product.  When you manufacture something you take into account, overhead, labor, materials costs, etc., and then you figure out a reasonable, fair price for your product. 

I can hear you saying, " yes, but how do I price inspiration or creativity?" You don't. You take into account your training, your peers' prices and perhaps add a little for that elusive creative spirit.   Most artists I know don't even cover their overhead, much less their training and labor!  So I've listed below some items you should take into account when you price your work.  And then, like I say with almost everything else, trust your gut.  This is just a starting point.  The rest is up to you.

Start with your overhead. Whether your art practice is full-time or part-time, you should treat it like a business. Businesses operate with overhead items like; rent, insurance, materials' costs, labor costs, car and/or truck expenses, delivery and/or shipping fees, professional associations' dues, and specific things related to your industry like museum entry fees, continuing education and so on.  This is not a complete list but will get you started.  Add all of these items together and get the complete cost of your overhead for a year.  Now sit down. Whew, right? 

 "Sunkissed 2" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

"Sunkissed 2" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

It goes without saying or maybe I should say it strongly, you should be registered with your city as a business and have a separate checking account for your art business.  All of your expenses should be put through your business checking account.  I'm not a tax expert (nor do I play one on t.v.!) so invest in some expert advice when it comes to taxes.  Be sure you get someone who is familiar with art business practices.  Incorrect tax advice for your given industry can cost you big bucks! 

Now let's look at overhead again.  Shocking, right? How many pieces do you do per year? Don't know? Hmmm. Figure it out. Pay yourself an hourly fee for making the work.  Be reasonable.  Are you just starting out? Then pay yourself minimum wage per hour for each piece.  Feel like you have some experience under your belt? Give yourself a raise.  Imagine that you are working in a corporation for X number of years (the number of years you have been painting). What would your job title be? Manager? I've been painting for nearly four decades.  I'm  the CEO of my studio. My painting prices reflect that. I also do a lot of work over the year, probably 50-100 pieces if you include all the work on paper.  Simple math will tell you, the more work you do, the less overhead you have.  

So here's a quick equation: Overhead divided by number of pieces = overhead price per piece.  So for instance, your overhead per year is $20,000.00 (stop rolling your eyes, you don't want to know what my overhead is!).  You make 100 pieces.  Each piece costs $200 to make. That's the base price. You have to add labor into that.  It takes you an average of 10 hours to complete a painting and you pay yourself $20.00 per hour.  That's $200.00. That makes the wholesale price of your painting $400.00.  But some pieces are 8"x10" and some are 60"x 60".  Hopefully, you make the 8x10 in 1/10 the time of the 60x60!  So less hours, less cost.  Get it? Then I add 20% to the cost just because I know I forgot something somewhere. 

After you get all of the above figured out, and the shock has worn off about how much it costs you to make art, you'll have a better idea of what it takes to run an art business.  And the next time someone asks you why that painting is so expensive, you can give them a concise answer. 

Want more tips on painting? Check out my book.

Want to know what I use in the studio? Check out my Product Recommendations.

 "Calliope 2" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

"Calliope 2" Acrylic on Canvas - Tesia Blackburn

Tips for Photographing Your Artwork with your Smartphone

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 Place the artwork near a window on a sunny day to get even lighting.

Place the artwork near a window on a sunny day to get even lighting.

For quick reference shots, using your smartphone can be just the ticket. For archival images and professional reproductions of my artwork, I always use a qualified photographer.  But for simple things like blog posts, social media posts or just to send an image to someone via email, smartphone shots can do the job. 

Choose a neutral background

I will sometimes shoot an image on my living room carpet. It’s a neutral off-white background and  I shoot from above, if the image is small enough. Easy to crop out the carpet from the photograph.

 Shot from overhead using an iPhone 6 (no filters or added lens).

Shot from overhead using an iPhone 6 (no filters or added lens).

Square up your image

Most smartphone cameras come with a grid for squaring up the image. Use it! If you have a really hard time squaring up the image, get at least one side of your painting lined up flush with a gridline. You can then crop it to square in the resulting photograph. 

Light and Shadow

I’ve found natural light to work the best.  Often I will shoot an image inside, in my living room with the image lying flat under the window. This results in less glare and more even lighting.  The best times to shoot in natural light are between 10 am and 2 pm. The sun is the highest in the sky and won’t put a warm sunset/sunrise glow on your painting.

If you are shooting outside, pick a sunny day and put the painting in the shade. The bounce light from the bright sun will bathe the painting in even light and result in a relatively glare-free photograph. 

Editing

Most smartphones now have editing capabilities that are on par with software online but if you want to edit further these are good options. 

Picmonkey - free and pretty good online editor.

 After cropping the image from above.

After cropping the image from above.

 

Read an entire article here on photo editors.

Resizing your photos

Don’t want to bother with how many pixels per inch or DPI? Just resize your image online. There are plenty of places online you can resize your photos.

Take reasonably good pictures and learn to edit them yourself. You’ll save yourself time and money!

Want more tips on painting? Check out my book.

Want to know what I use in the studio? Check out my Product Recommendations.