Thursday, November 26, 2015

Studio Developments

I've got quite a few things going on in the studio these days.  Unfortunately, I don't have enough time in the studio to get 'em all done!  I'm making progress, though.

My "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings are on exhibit in Mars Hill University's Weizenblatt Gallery through Dec 11.  It's a nice, intimate gallery.  We had a good opening reception and I gave a talk to an art history class about Afghanistan and art in a combat zone.

This past week, I finished a commissioned painting.  It turned out pretty well.  I can't post a picture of it here because it's a Christmas present.  Maybe in another month ...

Beyond that, I have several paintings in progress or in the queue.  One is a portrait that I just can't get to work.  It's a good painting, just not of that specific individual!  I'll keep trying for a bit, but might have to start fresh.

There's a landscape painting that's been staring at me for about two months now, telling me to finish it up.  I kinda like it so far, but maybe not enough to dive back into it.  Doing a good job with this painting means that I have to get my head back into the same place it was when I had the initial vision and started slinging paint.  I might have moved on.  If so, then I'll slap some oil gesso over it and have a clean panel for something else.

Ten years ago, I did a series of political satire paintings.  Almost all have been on the shelf since then.  Political paintings are very much tied to a specific time period, and most of them are no longer applicable.  Recently, though, the subject matter of one of them has come back to the fore.  So I've pulled it off the shelf and am re-working it to make it current and to make it a better painting.  Political satire, though, is not a pleasant topic for me.  I have to get really pissed off about something to come up with the satirical angle, and I don't like being pissed off all the time, which is one of the reasons I quit doing it ten years ago.

This fall, I've been doing open life painting sessions.  We're having a mix of models: male, female, clothed, and nude.  Here's one of the most recent results.  These are fun sessions - we've got a good group of artists who come and work, and all the models have been interesting to work with.  I need to get one of them to come back soon.  I changed a few things after the session and need to finish it up, and I have an idea for another painting.

Lastly, I will be mentoring a young high school student over the next few months.  She's got the talent and, apparently, the drive to be a good artist.  My mission will be to help her find her way.  I love doing this sort of thing - working with young art students really charges my batteries.

So that's what's going on in the studio.  Except none of it is happening today - this is Thanksgiving, so I'm hanging out around the house with Janis.  We're having a great time doing not much of anything.  I hope you and yours are having a great Thanksgiving today as well!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Thank You For Your Service"

"Thank you for your service."  I get a lot of that these days.  Frankly, I don't know how to respond.  Why thank me for my service?  I didn't do it for you or anybody else.  I did it for very selfish reasons.  I joined the Navy because it offered exotic places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as surface ships, submarines, and airplanes.  Any one of those things was better than any other job available when I was graduating college, like being an assistant manager in a Pampers plant in southeast Missouri.  It wasn't altruism that brought me into the Navy, it was the prospect of seeing and doing some really neat stuff.

I stayed in the Navy because they kept giving me cool things to do and great people to do them with.  I got to drive ships and lead teams of really sharp people.  I went to some amazing places (Japan, Korea, Philippines, Kenya, Singapore, San Diego, Australia, Hawaii, Panama, Washington DC, Honduras, Norway, England, Scotland, Belgium, Bahrain, Italy, Dubai, the Netherlands, Germany, Diego Garcia, Bosnia, and Guantanamo Bay, to name a few).  I was put in charge of a cutting-edge technology development program where we literally were inventing the technology as we went along.  I led and managed two overseas field sites.  I went to sea on a battleship and, during a gunnery exercise, watched a 16" shell as it flew for miles toward the target on the beach.  I went to sea on submarines four times.  I managed a set of operations during one brief war (Desert Storm).  I met my wife.  I worked with some of the sharpest, wittiest, most capable, and most driven people in the world.  Later, several years after retiring from the Navy, I got to work in Iraq with the reconstruction effort, and then in Afghanistan to help build their governance capability.  In all of this, we had a mission, a purpose, something that was much bigger than just making a buck.  Cool stuff, all of it.

And people thank me for this?

I have to admit, I have been extremely lucky.  I wasn't drafted to fight a brutal war, even though the draft was still ongoing at the time (I had a high draft number).  I've never personally been shot at, that I know of, and never been in a firefight.  I did lose a couple of friends to an IED in Iraq and a sailor to a motorcycle accident, but those aren't things you thank somebody for.  No, I just had a wonderful career doing fascinating things with great people.  I couldn't have asked for more.

There are many, many others who have not had the same experience.  The ones who have visible or invisible wounds, both from combat and everyday operations.  The ones who lost their families because they were gone all the time.  Many service members paid a really high price for their service, and those are the ones you should legitimately thank.  Not me.

So when people say "Thank you for your service", I'm thinking that they should be saying something like, "how the hell do I get some of that action?"  I know how to respond to that question.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Online Updates, Improvements, and Messing Around

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on improving my online studio presence.  A good online capability is crucial for successful marketing these days.  I gotta admit, I am the world's worst salesman and marketer.  I will talk somebody out of a sale.  Salesmanship is just something I never, ever, got the hang of.

But it was time to take a look at what I had and how it could be improved.  I had several things going already that were kinda/sorta okay: the web site, the studio Facebook page, this blog, and an Etsy site.  Each required some attention and there needed to be some additions.

The web site came first.  It was just okay as it was.  The home page was up to date but didn't have a whole lot of information and wasn't laid out well.  The individual pages for different series of paintings were not visually compelling.  There was no information about purchasing or commissioning anything.  All that needed some work, so I took advantage of Weebly's capabilities,  templates, and drag-and-drop features to spruce things up a bit.  The home page now has a LOT of information about recent and upcoming events, along with links to other places where my work can be seen.  And it makes much better use of the available real estate on a computer screen.  I also tweaked the pages for the different artworks series so they are more visually interesting.  Finally, I added a section devoted to purchasing art.  This included a page with links to Etsy and Saatchi, as well as a page where art could be purchased directly.  All the marketing experts say that if you don't make it easy to buy, people never will.  I've certainly proved that over the years, so it's time to try a new approach.  So take a look and let me know what you think.

The studio Facebook page was pretty good.  There are a lot of images on there and it's updated several times a week.  That's good.  But it still didn't have a large reach, especially considering it's been active for several years now.  So I tried an advertising campaign and it actually worked out pretty well.  I need to go back and take a look at the campaign, figure out lessons learned, and do another one.

Etsy isn't that great a site for visual artists.  It's a crafts-oriented site where the average sale is under $20.  That may work well for crafters who do a lot of inexpensive stuff, but not for visual artists whose work often entails many many hours of labor.  Despite that, there are some really good visual artists on Etsy.   Don't believe me?  Check out the list I put together on figurative artists.  I've got about 30-40 small works listed there, like figure drawings, quick oil sketches, photos, that sort of thing.  I've had a few sales.  You really have to market Etsy hard to get any traffic since there are thousands of others on there, and with the low price points, it's hard to justify.  Still, I'm there, and I'm going to push it a bit through the end of the year and then re-evaluate.  There are a few other artist sites that may be better for me.

One of the biggest of those is Saatchi Art.  I used to have a page there many years ago, but never pushed it and never had any traffic.  It eventually went into hibernation.  An American company bought Saatchi Art Online in 2014 and has aggressively expanded its capabilities and growth since then.  So I reactivated my account and built a new page.  There are just a few paintings on there now and more will be added.  One of the neat things about Saatchi is that they will also do open-edition giclees from the photos we provide.  Pretty cool.

I've been doing a newsletter for a number of years.  They come out aperiodically, just a few a year.  Email marketing gurus say that newsletters should come out much more often.  I don't want to spam people with too much information, and occasionally there's not much to say for a long time.  But that's an excuse.  I decided to step it up and send out a newsletter at the beginning of each month.  I sent one at the beginning of October and another yesterday, so I've got a string of two going!  The newest took some work as it was significantly revised to be more inclusive and informative.  If you're interested in getting these newsletters, go to my web page and you can sign up on the Home page.  Or send me a note and I'll add you.

Instagram is another site that I finally joined.  I'm using it strictly to promote my studio biz.  I post once a day (max) and have been very slowly building up my number of followers.  If you're interested, look me up: @skiprohde.  And follow me.  I can say a lot more about Instagram, but that will be a separate post.

So that's what I've been doing to improve my online presence.  It's taking a lot of work.  Once things get started, though, they get easier to update.  Got any thoughts on what else I should be doing?  Or about what each of these sites needs in order to be improved?  Let me know, I'm looking for advice.