Friday, July 12, 2019


Inventory.  Boy, that sounds exciting, huh?  Yeah, baby, there's nothing like curling up with a good spreadsheet or database and checking things off to really make your day exciting!

So, yeah, I've been doing an inventory of what's in my studio.  I'm not really sure how or why it got started, but the next thing I knew, I had the inventory on my computer and was trying to match entries to the artworks stacked around the room.  And it wasn't going all that well.  Here's a painting on the list, but where is it?  And there's a painting against the wall, but is it even on the inventory?  Sheesh.

I've been keeping an inventory using a spreadsheet (Apple's Numbers, if you want to be precise) for years.  I add new works to it, or update entries, whenever it occurs to me.  But I haven't really gone through and matched entries to artworks in, well, forever.  Not a good thing to do if you're in business.  So I got serious and spent quite a bit of time over the past four or five days trying to get everything as accurate as possible.  That included making labels for all the artworks and getting them stuck on all the right works.  I'm reasonably sure that everything in my studio is now labeled correctly and that the list of artworks on the computer is pretty accurate.  But not 100% positive.

So what did I learn?  Well, I've felt confident enough to sign my name to about 400 artworks and consider them "keepers", either by me or someone else.  The earliest is from 1973 and the most recent was signed yesterday.  Of these, I've actually sold 49, or 12%.  I've destroyed or painted over 62 (15%) of them, so for whatever reason, I decided that they really weren't keepers.  Note that more of my paintings have died than have been sold.  And about 23 more have been given away or donated.  So I still have about 250 on the shelves and racks in the studio.

Oh, and that's only the paintings and charcoal/pastel works.  It doesn't include the etchings and photographs.  I've got a lot of those, too.

My spreadsheet has a lot of information, including the artwork's title, inventory number, medium, size, pricing information, status (in the studio, destroyed, etc), exhibitions (if any), and notes.  A gallery owner told me that I should have everything in a special database program for artists, rather than a spreadsheet.  The program allows images to be attached to each record, which makes it a helluva lot easier to match artwork with data.  I haven't gotten around to doing that yet.  A Google search for artist inventory software shows that there are some at the freebie level, some that want $10-$80 a month, all the way up to a one-time fee of nearly $2,000 for a permanent license.  I can tell you, most of those are definitely out.  I'm a dedicated cheapskate.  I may just build my own database in Microsoft Access.

If I ever get around to it, that is.

Friday, July 05, 2019

So How Did They Turn Out?

My last post about Works In Progress showed three wedding paintings that were in various stages of development, and mentioned a fourth that was nowhere near ready to be seen.  They're all done and shipped off to their new owners now.  Here's how they turned out:

John and Janie

Kate and Ben

Lyndsie and Michael

Meghan and Bill

Four very different weddings, four very different paintings.  Three focused on the first dance, but I can tell you, they didn't look that way!  In two of them, the dances actually took place inside, but I moved them outside.  One of those was moved because it was POURING rain, but that shouldn't happen on somebody's wedding, so I made it a sunny day.  None of the families and friends were really standing around like they appear.  I used a ton of photos to rearrange people and things so that they better reflected the experience of the events.  These four couples gave me plenty of artistic license to arrange things as I felt best.  They really trusted me, and that trust is a great thing for an artist to have.

I have a bit of a break before my next event in August.  I'll be working on several studio projects that have been hanging while these were on the easels.  You might see some of them in the coming weeks.  Or, if they don't work out, maybe not.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"-Isms" and Art

I was listening to a podcast today in which four artists were talking about art.  Not so much about their art, but rather, the bigger art world.  They talked about modernism, post-modernism, post-post modernism, photo realism, abstraction, surrealism, representationalism, and a lot of other "isms" that have come and gone.  And they talked about where their art fit into not just these "isms" but also the meta-picture - and by that they meant the bigger world of art in which all these isms were specific factions.  And they talked about what it meant to be working in all/any of these -isms in a time in which all can be considered equally valid.

After a while, I got pissed off.  These guys were talking about making and doing art like political analysts talk about politics.  Everything has to fit into some faction or another, and there can't be any overlap.  So you choose your big faction - say, realism versus abstraction - then you decide which sub faction and sub-sub-faction you want to work in, all the while keeping in mind the Big Picture of where your art fits in (or not) with everything else being produced today or over the course of all eternity, and what statement you're making by working in your particular style.


I couldn't care less about factions.  I have friends who create beautiful and loose landscapes, others who make wild abstractions, and others who make small figurative sculptures.  I like their work because the artists are good at expressing themselves in their chosen media.  I look at the work and see, not just paint on canvas, but something of the artists themselves.  Richard's work is completely different from Genie's, and both are worlds apart from Margaret's.  But each one is working in a unique way that they developed in order to see their worlds and make their own statements.  They are working in ways that they HAVE to work, because nothing else will do it for them.

And that's what I do.  I make art about people, and I want to tell their stories on paper or canvas.  That's what I seem to be called to do.  And Richard and Genie and Margaret are all called to do different things.  We can't help ourselves - we're doing what we have to do.

But these guys in the podcast were talking about art as if they were choosing a style of art to make in order to be "relevant" to the art world.  That's art-making as art-world ladder climbing.  It's not art as personal expression.

Years ago, I saw an exhibition of student art at one of the country's premier art colleges.  I saw a lot of stuff that was clearly intended to be "artier" than the next guy.  I saw lots of personal styles and lots of high-quality execution, but not a lot of personal expression.  A similar exhibition at my alma mater, UNC Asheville, showed artworks that were sometimes crude in concept or technique, but also expressed raw feeling.  Give me that kind of work any day.  Keep your "isms".

Saturday, June 08, 2019


When I was young, I thought ceremonies were a waste of time.  "Just do it and get it over with."  Mention of an upcoming ceremony would prompt some serious eye-rolls.  Who has time for that?

After being in the Navy for a bit, though, I began to see ceremonies in a new light.  The military has a lot of them: awards, promotion, retirement, change of command, you name it.  These events weren't just something to get through as fast as possible, they were major milestones in people's lives and careers.  Ceremonies put a marker on the occasion and recognized its importance.  They put a dividing line on the "before" (say, when somebody was an Ensign) and "after" (when they were a Lieutenant jg).  At that moment, somebody's life changed.  And ceremonies put a public face on it.

So ceremonies had a value in themselves.  But some ceremonies really meant something, while others were just pro forma events.  The difference lay in how the ceremony was conducted.  When those carrying out the event knew what they were doing, and really meant what they were saying, ceremonies could be surprisingly powerful.  When they were just ticking off boxes, because "that's the way it's done", then they could be a waste of time.

I remember one retirement ceremony that followed all the accepted protocols.  Say this, present that, salute, say another thing, because that's in the script.  The individual went off to life as a retired Navy officer and we went back to work.  It had all the emotional impact of a Geico commercial.  A few weeks later, we had another retirement ceremony.  Same basic script, only this time, the officer conducting the ceremony and the retiree knew what each element in the script was all about, how it was relevant in this particular case, and they conveyed that to all of us in attendance.  It was incredibly powerful.  And it totally changed the way that I conducted military ceremonies for the rest of my career.

Fast forward to today and I find myself in the wedding ceremony business.  I'm seeing the same concepts here that I did in the Navy.  In some weddings, the couple, officiant, planners, and others follow a rote script.  They do this, that, and the other thing because "that's the way it's done", not because it has meaning to the couple.  It's just something to get through.  Tick enough boxes and boom, you're married.  Another Geico commercial.  Let's go eat.

I feel sorry for those who are just ticking the boxes.  They seem to be outside the event, watching it, rather than immersing themselves in a major change-of-life moment.  Are we doing the First Dance correctly?  Do I have any new emails on my phone?  Is the caterer skimping on the roast beef?  The DJ wasn't supposed to play that song.  Who's on the dance floor and who's sitting it out?

But those that really put a lot of thought into what they're doing, and why they're doing it, have some extremely moving ceremonies.  The officiant says things that apply directly to the bride and groom.  The bride and groom say things to each other that reach deeply into their relationship.  The bride may wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to her much-loved grandmother.  The father-daughter and mother-son dances aren't just something on the agenda, they mark a permanent change in the relationship between people who still love each other very much.  For those of us who are bearing witness, these moments can bring tears to your eyes.

For those who are planning a wedding, or any major life-event ceremony, put some thought into what you're doing.  Just do the things that mean something to you.  And throw yourself into it.  You don't get that many chances for a major celebration.  Enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Works In Progress

Four weeks.  Four wedding paintings.  That's the spring wedding rush in this studio.  At the moment, three of the paintings are underway and the fourth will start this weekend.

As mentioned in my last post, the first of these paintings didn't start very well.  The concept was good, but my execution wasn't.  While waiting for the first dance, I had started putting in the outdoor environment, with the idea of putting the bride, groom, and others in later.  That method didn't really fit with the way my brain works and I ran into all sorts of issues once the people started going in.  So the next day in the studio, I wiped it out and started over.  This let me get the important parts of the painting - namely, the couple and family members - positioned where they made the most compositional sense.  That painting is now nearly finished and here's how it looks right now (click on the images to enlarge):

The second painting got off to a great start.  It was a surprise for the bride and groom - they wanted an artist but the bride's mom said "nope, too expensive, not in the budget", while at the same time already having me lined up to do just that.  I love surprises like that!  We decided that the subject of the painting would be the return walk down the aisle at the end of the ceremony.  And the bride and groom gave us the perfect setup.  So when they spotted me painting away at the reception, they were over the moon.  This was one of those paintings where everything was working from the get-go, which made it loads of fun.  No wiping it out in the studio the next day!  Instead, I've made some progress on it and here's how it stands right now:

Last weekend's painting required a road trip to Atlanta.  I am NOT a fan of driving in Atlanta.  So I hit the road way early and took the scenic route down through Sylva and Franklin, rather than driving interstates all the way.  Got to Atlanta and ran into seven lanes of traffic slowed to a 5 mph crawl because an 18-wheeler was parked on the side of the road.  Yep, it wasn't blocking anything.  Sheesh. But I'm glad I gave myself plenty of time.  And this painting was a Special Case.  The couple had booked another artist, but she backed out with just a few weeks to go.  So in order to uphold the honor of wedding painters everywhere, I took on the job.  The couple wanted the subject to be the first dance.  To liven up the composition and color, we decided to place them outside in the courtyard, which was the bride's favorite part of the facility anyway.  So here's how the third painting stands right now:

So one painting is almost done, two are in about the same level of completion, and a fourth starts Saturday.  I'm spending a lot of time in the studio and really having a good time.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Wedding Season Has Begun!

My 2019 wedding season kicked off yesterday.  I was the live event artist at the wedding of a lovely couple who got married at the Dennis Vineyards near Albemarle, North Caroline, which is a bit east of Charlotte.  It was a lot of fun to get back into the swing of the wedding painting thing again.

When the bride and I were planning what to put on canvas, she was torn.  She wanted it to show the first dance, but she also wanted to see the beautiful vineyards.  Well, this is a painting, and I can put anything I want anywhere I want.  So our idea was to show the first dance outside, on the lawn, with the vineyards in the background.  Good plan.

All went normally for me for a while.  I arrived early, talked with the event planner and venue manager, got set up, met the bride and groom, and started taking reference photos of everything.  I continued taking photos all during the ceremony.  Since the ceremony was outside, this gave me an indication of the direction and color of the light, how any breezes affected hair and dresses, and some idea of how the people looked in the landscape.  After the ceremony, I tagged along with the photographer and videographer as they worked with the newly-married couple and got some really good references.  Then we moved inside and I shot a ton more photos during the first dance.  Then it was time to get to work on the painting.

My approach was to do a very rough block-in of the landscape, then put the various figures into it.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  Well, I took it too far.  When I started putting figures into the landscape, the landscape had a lot to say about where the figures went, which wasn't necessarily where I wanted them to be.  Not only that, but I had to wipe out the landscape underpainting (which was still very wet) to paint the figures in.  And the brushstrokes for my figures picked up the remnants of the green paint and tinted everything.  To top it all off, I thought my figure drawing was for crap.  Sheesh.

Fortunately, the couple and guests were quite impressed by what I managed to get done in a fairly short amount of time.  I had a great time talking with many people, from the 4-year-old flower girl to an 80-something gent.

Back in the studio today, I plopped the painting on my easel and studied it.  I decided that the basic idea and composition were fine, but execution was sub-par.  So a lot of thinner and some scrubbing with a stiff brush removed most of the still-wet paint.  Next was to block in the dancing couple, and that went much better than the first effort.  Then I did a good bit of thinking and planning on how to put in the rest of the key figures, and how to get the landscape to support the composition.

Result?  A much improved structure in which to paint the people, while showing relationships, emotions, and activity.  Lesson learned: don't paint the background first!  Indicate the setting, but only roughly.  Then block in the key people.  THEN develop the painting all over.

So NO, you can't see it right now.  I'll show a work-in-progress when it's a bit further along. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A New Toy

I've liked sports cars almost all my life.  I've had a few, too: '70 Opel GT, '69 Alfa Romeo Spider, '80 Triumph TR7, '68 Triumph GT6+, '76 MG Midget, and an '85 Porsche 944.  And I had a '91 Taurus SHO, which was the factory hotrod version with a screaming Yamaha engine and a 5-speed manual transmission.  The last of the sports cars was the 944, which we sold in about 2001.  I've had small trucks and a Volvo ever since.

But the sports car bug never left.  I have subscriptions to a couple of car magazines that kept the fire going, and periodically I'd look at eBay, Craigslist, or Bring A Trailer, just to see what was there.  The fire really got stoked last year when one of my magazines started a series on a '71 Alfa Romeo Spider that they bought and began fixing up.  I've always had a soft spot for the Spiders.  I think they're one of the most beautiful production cars ever made, with sleek and elegant lines.  So most of my eBay, Craigslist, and Bring A Trailer perusals focused on Alfas.  Just to, y'know, see what's out there.  That's all.

Last year, a Spider popped up on Bring A Trailer and it was right here in the Asheville area.  It sounded pretty good, so, y'know, just to see what's out there, I connected with the guy to check it out.  Well, his definition of "pretty good" and mine weren't the same.  The Alfa was completely worn out.  The paint was faded, top was shot, steering vague, oil pressure near zero, it smoked, interior needed to be replaced, wires hanging down from the dash, you get the picture.  I didn't bid.  It wound up selling for about $9,500, and needed that much more work in order to be a $10,000 car.

A couple of weeks ago, I just happened to be on eBay (not looking for anything, I swear) and there was a really nice '87 Alfa Spider.  From the photos, it looked like it had been well cared for: the paint was in good shape, advertised with no rust (a BIG issue with Alfas), had the original top with a clear rear window, and supposedly ran well.  The seller's writeup said all the right things that an Alfa owner would recognize and it looked to me like he was (a) honest and (b) really knew what he was talking about.  I thought, dang, that's nice, it's gonna go for big bucks.  The opening bid was really low at $5250, and I expected it would sell for at least double that.

As the week went on, nobody bid.  Nobody.  Finally it was an hour before the auction was due to end and there were still no bids.  My stress level went off the scale - should I bid on it?  Yes? No? Yes?  Finally Janis said, look, you know you want it, just buy the damn thing.  So I waited until the last minute, in case there were other goobers like me watching, and threw in my bid for the opening amount.

I won the auction.

So now I own a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce (pronounced "vel-OH-chee").  As it turned out, the seller was a fantastic guy who gave me what he knew of the history of the car.  He had only put maybe 300 miles on it during 8 years of ownership, and kept it in his garage, where it was usually blocked in by his family's other cars.  There was a good bit of recent work that fixed some common Alfa problems.  He and I hit it off really well - we both saw ourselves as caretakers of the Alfa.  Nobody's a "caretaker" of a Toyota.

I arranged to have the car shipped from Annapolis, Maryland, here to Mars Hill, North Carolina.  The car arrived late Friday afternoon.  I spent the weekend fiddling with the car and going through all the spares, accessories, parts, manuals, and other items that the previous owner included.  On Monday, I got the car licensed and put the tags on.  On Tuesday, it got a new set of tires, since the old ones were around 12 years old.  Then I went ripping up and down some of the winding back country roads around my home.  Just to test it out, you know.

Impressions?  This is a really nice survivor.  It's certainly not perfect, but it has been driven, maintained, and lived with by owners who took good care of it.  It's a very physical car to drive.  By that, I mean that it does not have power steering, so it takes a lot of effort to crank the wheel.  It has a manual transmission that, in typical Alfa fashion, has synchronizers that quit working in probably the first year.  It's loud, it vibrates, it's immediately responsive to every steering/throttle/brake input, and it demands that you PAY ATTENTION to what you're doing.  But if you do that, damn, it is such a sweet car!

That drive exposed a few things that need to be addressed.  But then, I expected no less.  None of the issues are serious and I can take care of all of them but one - I gotta have a shop replace the rear wheel bearings.  Other than that, the car is eager to go play on these back roads.

I needed a car like this like a hole in the head.  But boy, I really LOVE this car!