Monday, August 31, 2015

Automotive Deep Clean

I'm in the middle of doing a deep clean on my truck.  This is something I do about once a year for each of my vehicles.  It's a long, hard, pain-in-the-ass procedure, but it helps keep the cars looking good.  I got started doing this over 20 years ago and now it's a habit.  Sometimes I have to wonder if there's something everybody else knows that I don't, because in the 15 years we've been in this neighborhood, I've only seen a neighbor washing his car once, and he didn't even bother to wax it.  No, most people just run their cars through the local car wash and hit the "wax" button, if anything, and that's enough for them.

Not for me.  My cars gotta last, and that means they gotta look good and run well.  A good wax job will help the paint last longer, and painting a car is expensive.  You can buy a helluva lot of wax for the price of one paint job.  Since I'm a cheapskate, I figure it's worth my while to spend a little bit of money on the right stuff and then spend the hours necessary to do a decent job.

So what's involved in an automotive deep clean?  For me, five long steps.  First is a good wash.  Then there's the cleaning.  Then the polishing,  Then the wax.  Finally, the ancillary stuff: windows, windshield, tires, and interior.

The first step is a good wash.  You can do this at your coin-operated car wash, but I always do it in my own driveway with a hose and a bucket of automotive-spec cleaner.  That way, I go over the whole car and get a good idea of what needs attention.  

But this only gets the surface dirt.  It doesn't get the bugs off the front, doesn't get the tar and tree sap off the sides, nor the water burns off the top and hood.  If you run your hand over the finish, you'll feel lots of little bumps.  All that stuff should come off.  To do this, I use an abrasive cleaner that I get from an automotive paint store.  It's not as abrasive as rubbing compound, but it does have some grit to it.  Professional detailers will use this stuff with a high-speed buffer, but I don't.  It's too easy to burn through the paint.  Instead, I use a small terrycloth towel and go over all the paint by hand.  Rub it on like wax, and rub the tar and tree sap and other imperfections until they go away, and then buff the surface with another terrycloth towel.  I do this on the chrome as well.  At the end, it should be squeaky clean.  What you've just done is remove all the old wax, tar, and everything else from the surface of the paint.  

The next step is to polish it.  Many people think wax makes the car shiny, but it doesn't really.  The shine comes from a very smooth paint surface.  However, the surface of a car that's been on the road for a while isn't really smooth.  It's actually got high and low spots, tiny abrasions, and other nearly invisible imperfections.  That's why it squeaks when it's squeaky clean.  When we use a polishing compound, it is specially made to fill those tiny imperfections, so when it's buffed down, the surface of the paint is as smooth as it can be.  Again, the pros use buffers, but I use terrycloth towels to apply the polishing compound by hand and then buff it down.  I only do this on the paint, not the chrome.  At the end, the surface is very smooth and not squeaky at all.

The next stage is the wax.  This is really to provide a protective coating for the paint surface.  Use a carnauba paste wax and apply it with a damp application pad, then buff it down with yet another terrycloth towel.  I wax the windows (not the windshield) and the chrome as well - all that stuff is shiny and needs something to keep the bugs and tar from sticking.  

Finally, there's the other stuff.  I scrub down the tires and wheels to get rid of all that brake dust.  If the tires have raised white letters, I'll go over them with a scrubber.  Then the tires get a spray-on tire treatment that makes them a shiny black.  The shine doesn't last long, but the treatment puts some silicone on the tires to protect them from the sun and weather.  As for the windshield, I use Rain-X.  It makes rain bead up and run off, to the point where you don't need the wipers on the highway.  Wax does, too, but Rain-X lasts longer under the wipers.  On the interior, I wipe it down with Armor All cleaner, but not the "protectant" as it leaves a slick silicone feel that, to me, is just slimy.

And there you have it.  Way too much work (maybe 8 hours total per car), but it keeps my cars looking pretty good.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Missed Opportunity

Back in June, an opportunity for a commission came up.  I won't say who it was with, except that it was a large organization with a lot of money.  They put out the word that they wanted seven large artworks, two of them 48"x60" and five of them 36"x54".  In addition, they wanted very specific themes for each artwork.  And they were actually going to pay for them.  What an unusual concept!  I could relate very well to their subject and themes.  So after a bit of a back-and-forth with the contact, I submitted a proposal in early July.  They were on a tight timeline and had said they'd make their decision by the middle of the month.

Which came and went with no word.  More weeks passed.  Still no word, even after I sent them notes.  It got to the point where I couldn't have completed the paintings in the time remaining, anyway, so I wrote it off.  But then they contacted me, asking about purchasing one of the paintings that I had submitted as a sample of my work.  Okay, well, if I can't get the commission, then maybe I can at least sell them one of my existing paintings.  So I gave them a discounted price for the painting, plus my costs for framing and shipping.  As it turned out, they only had enough in their budget for the framing, shipping, and my cost of materials, but then asked if I would do it anyway.


Something like this is really frustrating for me as an artist.  First, it's obvious that they didn't do any homework before advertising that they wanted seven very large paintings with specific sizes, subjects, and themes.  A little bit of research, even just ten minutes on Google, would have given them something of an idea of the cost.  Had they talked with a couple of artists, they might have had an even better idea of the cost as well as the time required.  But they didn't.  As a result, I spent a lot of time preparing a professional-quality proposal, carefully discussing how my paintings would meet their requirements, how the process would benefit their target audience, what would go into the effort, and what the cost would be.  And it's apparent that the proposal was dead in the water before I even printed it out, because the shipping costs alone for the seven paintings were twice as much as their entire budget.

The second thing that's frustrating is how little value is placed on an artist's time and effort.  This organization was typical of so many in that they willingly pay professional-level fees for architects, engineers, and even day labor.  Yet when it comes to artists, they expect us to work for minimum wage or less.  Or, as in this case, to essentially give them the artwork.  Why is that?  Is it because they don't consider art work to be real work?  If so, how do we turn that around?

When I was in the River Arts District, I participated in the semi-annual Studio Strolls, in which we opened our studios to the public.  I spent a lot of time talking with people about my paintings and how they came to be.  Most people had some appreciation for what goes into the process.  More than once, though, I had somebody say something like "Oh, it must be so relaxing to be an artist!"  Yes, ma'am, it's about as relaxing as it is to be a defense lawyer or high-stakes stock trader, except it doesn't pay as well.

Unfortunately, very few people ever see the inside of an artist's studio and understand what it takes to make art.  It's a very private process - we don't work in large bustling offices where lots of people see what we do.  And, for artists like me who make two-dimensional art (paintings, drawings, prints, and so on), the end result is a still image.  These images tend to get lost in, and significantly devalued by, our culture's constant flood of advertising, posters, TV, billboards, movies, YouTube videos, and magazines.  Everybody's got a camera, and anybody can take a picture to WalMart and have it printed out at any size they want for next to nothing.  For many, a print from a cellphone snapshot and a painting from an artist's studio aren't fundamentally different - they're a nice design of colors and shapes in a particular spot on the wall.  So there's no need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a painting when Little Ronnie's photo can be printed at Target for just a few bucks.

I want to make it clear that I'm not complaining.  I'm frustrated, yes, but about the larger issue of the value of an artist's work in our current culture.  I don't see that changing any time soon.  Still, I learned a few things during this event.  For one, now I have a good structure for a proposal the next time an opportunity comes up.  There are a couple of things that I would do differently in future proposals as well.  And the next time somebody wants to talk about having me do an art project, I'll make sure we have an understanding of the ballpark range for the costs before I spend a lot of time putting together a proposal.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Landscape Follow-Up

In yesterday's post, I wrote about some lessons learned from looking at landscape paintings by Peggy Root and figure drawings by Tamie Beldue.  Well, lessons learned are not worth a hoot if you don't put them into practice.  So today I tried some out.  Yesterday's post had an image of a crappy landscape that I did in Florida a while back.  Here 'tis:

Butler Beach Marsh

And here is today's effort:

Butler Beach Marsh, the Remix

I think this one is much better.  Instead of trying to depict too much, I made the marsh grasses into areas of greens with soft edges.  I also pumped up the value contrasts in the water and made the reflections better, both of the sky and grasses.  And the treelines in the distance are bluer.  The composition is no better, but that was intentional: I wanted to see the effect that this very different painting approach would have on the image.  So the lesson learned is one that all the good landscape instructors have been telling me forever: get the big shapes, don't try to paint everything, and mind your edges.

I'm a slow learner ...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Looking at Artists: Peggy Root and Tamie Beldue

We visited the Blue Spiral 1 art gallery in Asheville today.  It's Asheville's largest gallery and represents a great variety of artists and crafters.  You can tell that they have standards because they don't represent me!  The current exhibition shows new work from a few of their stock artists.  Two of them really caught my eye: Peggy Root, a landscape painter, and Tamie Beldue, a figurative artist.

As discussed in a number of earlier posts, I've been doing a lot more landscapes over the past couple of years.  And I've been largely frustrated and disappointed with my results.  My paintings wind up being overly literal and too specific, with colors that are either too intense or too muted, and values that are either too dark or too light.  The result is too often a clash of things vying for attention rather than a harmonious image where everything pulls together.  So when I see somebody who can really paint a good landscape, I look at how they handle particular passages and compare that to how I might have blundered through it.  And as I saw today, Peggy is a really good painter, and I learned quite a bit just from looking at her works.

Marshes Connecticut
Oil on canvas
Artist: Peggy Root

Here's a sample of her work.  To start with, she has an eye for good composition.  The distant hill and the treeline is in the upper third of the painting, the stream is in the left third, reflecting the trees and sky.  The marsh is a mid-value, muted green area that sets off the dark and light areas.  There is a nice, natural balance to the arrangement.  Everything fits together and contributes to the mood.

Speaking of mood, all of Peggy's paintings that I saw had strong emotional depth to them.  Too many landscape paintings by other artists look like snapshots with all the depth of a Twitter tweet, but Peggy's show real feeling.  It's like she's saying "I was here, and it was beautiful, and I want to share that joy with you."  That's not an easy thing to say with paint.

One of the things that I noticed with her work is that she builds them up in layers.  For example, a tree may start with an ultramarine blue block-in, then have a layer of muted dark green, then a lighter warmer green, and a stronger yellow-green in the lightest areas.  These layers will usually not have hard edges - they'll be blended or scumbled to suggest foliage rather than define it.  That's one area where I typically fall down: I try to define too much.  Compare her painting of marshes (above) to mine (below):

Butler Beach Marsh
Oil on panel, 9"x12"

Peggy's is calm and contemplative, with strong composition, excellent use of light/dark, and colors that naturally go together.  In mine, I got sucked into trying to depicting every weed and matching colors as accurately and literally as possible.  It would have been much better to paint the greens as areas of broken color rather than tons and tons of vertical strokes.  And I should have done better in selecting and painting my lights and darks - the reflected light on the water, for example, should be much brighter than it is.  But that's the way I saw it at the time, so that's what I put down.  And so you see what I mean between Peggy's suggesting and my defining.  

 I saw that Peggy teaches workshops occasionally.  I'm going to try to take one.  You, meanwhile, should go to her website and take a look.  Or, better, go to Blue Spiral or one of her other galleries and see them in person.  They're so much better in real life.

The other artist that made an impression on me was Tamie Beldue.  Tamie teaches drawing at UNC Asheville.  She came long after I'd already graduated, but I've talked with her a time or two.  Blue Spiral is currently featuring a number of large mixed-media drawings, mostly graphite with watercolor, pastel, and encaustic.  Here's one that's typical:

Portrait on a Porch Swing
Graphite, watercolor, and encaustic, 52"x35"
Artist: Tamie Beldue

What I liked about Tamie's work, besides the fact that she can really draw, is her use of soft and lost edges.  She uses sharp edges, strong value contrasts, and colors to draw the eye, with reduced contrasts, soft and lost edges, and muted colors (if used) to suggest the structures in other areas of the work.  In this example, the young woman's eyes are the darkest and sharpest part of the work and are the primary focus.  The secondary focus is on the junction of the hands, and here the values and sharpness are almost, but not quite, as pronounced as around the eyes.  The shirt is depicted to some extent, enough to indicate what she's wearing, but as your eye moves away from her eyes, there's less and less detail, to the point where in some places there's pretty much nothing.  If you don't think it works, imagine this drawing with all the details of the shirt, bench, jeans, and wall included.  It doesn't work, does it?  But how many artists do you know that would include all that stuff?  Most, I imagine.

Like Peggy, Tamie is very good at establishing an emotional connection in her work.  Her figures are real people.  The process of drawing them from life is long, meaning that quiet will necessarily be an important part of the image.  Tamie manages to find the quiet part of her subject's personality and capture that in the image.  I can appreciate that.  In my own figurative drawings, I try to get something of the subject's personality on paper.  I draw in a much more rapid and sketchy manner than Tamie, and that works for me.  But one thing I can take from Tamie and try to apply in my own work is a greater use of soft and lost edges.

So.  Blue Spiral has a good show up right now.  Go see Peggy and Tamie's work.  If you can't make it, at least go online to the Blue Spiral website, or to those of Peggy and Tamie.