Archives for posts with tag: advice

An early show, after I'd recovered from school.

This morning I found myself reminiscing a little about things that art instructors have said to me that stuck in my memory. I was probably doing this for a few reasons:

I taught a class last night in which a student (who is also a teacher) mentioned “you are a good teacher”.

there was a lot of strong light pouring in through my closed blinds.

I was thinking about character and strength of it.

I recall a drawing instructor who went over the idea of Chiaroscuro. This method of modelling, using dark and light to create form, was invented or at least defined as we know it during the Italian Renaissance. My instructor truly “went over it” in that we didn’t practice or learn anything about this technique. Well, he did make this (paraphrased) statement: “This was important for artists in Italy to learn, but it’s not important for us. We have different light. It’s not as harsh, it is a soft light.” Then we went back to drawing leaves and stuff.

At least he mentioned that Chiaroscuro existed, so that I could read about it later. One thing I gleaned from the thirty-second lesson on Chiaroscuro, is to pay attention to different kinds of light. I’d not really thought about it before, only simply accepted while observing. It was true that where I lived then had a hazy, blue light that meandered over objects and made them sort of softly glow from within. Beyond artificial light, there were normally no harsh shadows or light effects.

However, when learning the fundamental basics of drawing, one should learn all that one can. It is unrealistic to expect one’s college-aged students to stay in their small city for their entire lives, painting outdoor landscapes and nothing else. At least not all of them.

I got an A+ in that class.

Chiaroscuro actually works well in any type of lighting, in that you can form the object, and simultaneously (or after the fact) paint the shadows and light effects too. So, for example, say you have a sphere. It is round. The middle comes towards you, and the edges recede. By this theory, the edges are darker than the middle. However, if there is any sort of light source, that would have a highlight/shadow effect on the sphere. Ambient and atmospheric lighting play a part, as do reflections on the sphere. Try painting an egg. You’ll see what I mean. Actually, an egg will be one of the things we will paint in the “How To Paint: Stuff” series.

Painting is what I love to do best.

Another memorable moment during my time as an Art College Attendee was when a painting instructor (who I admired greatly) reduced me to tears when I dared to critique an exhibition of paintings. A famous artist was showing in a major gallery, and I was finally able to see her work in the flesh. My instructor and I talked briefly about it. Paraphrasing:

She: “Did you see the So-And-So exhibition?”

Moi: “Yes I did. I found her brushwork to be too careful. It looked un-natural and laboured over.”

She: “You and I have VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS about painting… ”

Conversation stopped. Closed door.

What did I learn from this experience? Students will take what a teacher says seriously, and students sometimes don’t express themselves as clearly as they would like. If you are a teacher, and one of your students says something you disagree with, or even find offensive, ask them a question about it rather than making a statement and closing the door to communication. Also, sometimes people we look up to have bad days and say nasty things too. Don’t always take them to heart, if you can help it.

I managed to get a B+ in that class.

Cast Over, a painting from way back in '99.

An Art History instructor told me (in front of his equally well-known and somewhat famed friend) that I would “need to learn and memorize names and dates of paintings so that I would be impressive and knowledgable at parties”. Paraphrased. He nailed directly on the head one of my biggest combo-insecurities.

I am terrible with names and dates, and I don’t like looking dumb at parties. I learned from this that I should not care so much what others think.

I got a C- in that class. 

2157 Trees. In 1999 I painted an imagined tree pattern on the imagined drapery and then used a rough calculation to describe how many trees there would be here. I also counted the ones depicted "outside".

I’ll finish with a really good thing that my Book Arts instructor told me. Paraphrasing: “Be ready for success. Don’t get stuck and depressed. People will simultaneously want you to produce what you’re well-known for, and be disappointed that your work isn’t developing.” She thought I would be famous, knew some people who were famous, and famous famous famous.  Famous etc famous. Basically, I had to stay true and genuine to what I needed to make, to my forms of expression. My muse is a changing thing.

Should I stumble upon a super-successful trick, I shan’t remain a one-trick pony! Oh, and I got an A+ in that class.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Advertisements

Part of an exhibition in a Public Art Gallery, 2004

Galleries can be intimidating for artists to approach. Knowledge is power, so it is important to understand a bit about galleries before you approach them. Most galleries have websites so you don’t have to go pummel the person working there with questions, and you can research many different galleries from the comfort of your computer-screen. I do recommend walking into your chosen gallery a few times before submitting your portfolio, if possible. On-line, a gallery (like any other business or organisation) will present themselves in their best light. Get to know the reputation of the gallery and staff who work there. It’s good, too, to get a feel for the “fit” of your work with the work they currently show.

There are a few different types of galleries. Please note that I am located in Canada, and other countries have slightly different legal and practical models for galleries. These Canadian types of galleries are Public Galleries (in the USA these are closest to Art Museums), Artist-Run Centres, Co-Ops, and Commercial Galleries.

There are many sizes of Public Gallery. Often a larger city will have a larger Public art Gallery, but this isn’t always the case. A lot of towns and cities have a very minor art gallery, while others have several types of Public art galleries. A lot depends on the funding situation in a given city or province. Some cities and towns have colleges and universities; these tend to have good and better-funded (due to better attendance) art galleries. Many of the smaller art galleries have “submission” sections in their websites. However, as is often the case with other sorts of galleries, sometimes the “submissions” section isn’t exactly in bold type. Check out the “contact” and “information” pages, and if you still don’t see anything, don’t be shy to send a polite, short email to see if they accept artist submissions, and if there are any specifications for them. Larger institutions normally do not accept submissions from artists, however, it can’t hurt to acquaint their curators with your work.

Another type of gallery whose purpose is to advance art and culture, and not to make money, is the Artist Run Centre. It is important to note that a lot of Co-Op style galleries call themselves this, even though they do not really fit in this category. In Canada, an Artist-Run Centre is one that pays artists to show. This is similar to the Public Galleries, in that they adhere to the CARFAC fee schedule. These galleries have a mandate, a board of governors, and are distinctly non-profit. There are many hoops that a gallery must fit through before they are a true Artist-Run-Centre in Canada, and thus they are highly respected galleries, much like the Public galleries. Normally they have a range of cultural services and events outside of exhibitions, like publications, installation and integration into the larger community, and public events. This is a good link to lists of these galleries, as well as other nifty Canadian things.

Co-Op style galleries usually are run by artists, but they do not adhere to the “artist-run” rules. These galleries offer a range of exhibition and other opportunities. In my experience, they are great for local artists to obtain studio space, socialize with one another, and to have more informal exhibitions. As a self-supporting artist I am turned off by many of these galleries, though, because not only do they not pay artists to show, but ask for artists to pay for their exhibition space. Personally, I do not want to be a part of that. Other artists claim some success with this, though, if they have highly marketable work that just needs to be seen to be purchased. Galleries-For-Hire are good for commercially successful artists who want to circumvent the Commercial Gallery system.

Commercial Galleries are there to sell art. There are, indeed, Commercial Galleries that have a mandate to advance art and propose to support culture with events, concerts, publications, and other goodies. A really good Commercial Gallery will integrate itself into the world, and not just pander to the lowest common denominator. These galleries, generally, take about 40-50% of the retail price of works. In my experience, this can be a good way to reach an audience who would otherwise never see your work. A good gallerist works hard, and is worth every cent of their commission. A bad gallerist can do any number of bad things, from not being friendly and professional to people entering the gallery, to not paying the artists in good time, to not promoting well… to outright theft of artworks. It can get ugly. Listen to the rumour-mill about galleries’ reputations in your town before submitting your portfolio.

Most application packages (with many exceptions) require some basic stuff: A dvd of between 10 and 20 works, a co-responding Image List, an Artist Statement, and a CV. Sometimes the gallery requires a Project Proposal (especially the Artist-Run and Public Galleries) to know what specifically you would like to exhibit there, and what is your academic or theoretical bent. From time to time, you will find a gallery that accepts submissions on-line. This can be a challenge because normally they only want a scant few images of your work. However, it costs nothing to email. Sometimes the gallery lists a request for a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to return your materials. I would suggest doing so, as it appears that you care about your work, and your information is precious to you. Personally, I need to take my own advice in this regard. Normally I don’t supply the SASE, as I know that in the three to six months that it will take for them to get back to me, my portfolio and CV will have changed. But… I will try to take my own advice from now on.

A Final Word of Support: As with any venture, as long as you cross your ‘”t”s and dot your “i”s, you should expect about a 10% (or less) success rate. Keep those packages flying out the door. When they are sent back with a polite (or not-so polite, or non-existent) rejection letter, do not fret. We all go through this, it is part of the game. If you are an organised-type, take notes of when submission packages are called for by galleries. Note it in your calendar, and you can produce a few submission packages at a time. This saves you time and effort. I usually settle into this about three times a year, and get out about a dozen within a day or two. That being said, it’s a good idea to keep checking in case special calls to artists should come up. Also, try not to re-submit the same proposal to a gallery. Gallery Committees and Curators have good memories.

Best of luck, and see you in the galleries!

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Hanging art is something of an art in itself. There are rules and tips and advice and stuff that people go by, like “the middle must be so-and-so inches from the ground”. This might work sometimes, but certainly not always. I actually forget what that magical number is! I do know, however, that whenever I’ve tried to follow any of those rules, odds are that the final result will look a little weird.

Learn to trust your gut when it comes to balancing out artworks with surrounding aspects of the room.

To hang art, you need to take many, many factors into consideration. How high are the walls? How wide is the available space? Is there furniture nearby? How bright is the art, does it contrast with everything else in the room or does it blend in? Is there odd lighting at some time of the day? Is the artwork visually top-heavy? If I hang this tiny painting on a large wall… will it look silly? So many of the answers are based on gut feelings. You need to experiment, try different spots, different pieces in different places, and one day you will learn to trust your gut.

Play around with the groupings, if you are so inclined and are so blessed to have so much art.

To start you along this path of trusting-your-gut, I will make a few suggestions (besides encouraging you to make many holes in the wall). If you have small work and a large wall, try hanging it off-centre. Think: “Syncopation“. Off-kilter, off-centre… a little high or a little low. Something to make your eye try something a little different with the available space. Art should be something that makes the viewer think and consider, to take pause… so curating a wall of art is a responsibility. It’s a chance to say something, besides What’s The Current Trend. Another option is to display small works in a cluster. Some would stress over frames, sizes… but try to let go of stress. It’s just so much easier this way. You don’t NEED to use a tape measure, string, pencil, etc for a grid. Just try to make it. It’ll be ok.

If you have a tall, skinny work to hang in a given space, try it aligned more to the right than in the middle. This works REALLY well if you also have something like a floor-lamp, or free-standing chair that you would like nearby the wall too. If it’s in a foyer, it is useful to have a wall to lean on sometimes, or a place to temporarily leave luggage or the vacuum without fear. We do need to think about our practical lives, not just our aesthetic ones.

Hanging smaller-scale paintings is not a science, it is a simple art.

I think that having a bit of paint in the current wall-colour of your home might be useful. So is having a little bit of spackle (or Dap or whatever, wall-goo) and a spatula. I cannot emphasise enough: Please Try And Lose The Fear of changing your artworks around. Honestly, once you’ve got the general placement for a piece of art, you can start nailing. Try to shoot “low”. Then, if it turns out that it is too low indeed, the artwork will cover any stray holes from earlier hanging-attempts. You can fill in the holes, dry, sand, paint over… or don’t. It depends on you. If you will be annoyed by knowing it’s not perfect wall underneath your art, then fix it up. Or follow the Natasha Way, and don’t bother! It’s much more fun to make puff-pastry than to perfect a wall that no-one will see.

Trust your gut, fiddle around with placement and height, so that it feels "right" in the room.

In general, in general, you can look at the visual centre of a piece of art… and make that at “about” eye-level, or slightly lower. Really, it goes against all my experience and instincts to give a rule-of-thumb about hanging art. Now, what is important to take note of, is that the “visual centre” is rarely ever the physical centre of a painting. It’s normally about one-third of the distance down from the top of the work. That’s just the comfortable compositional ratio, what normally happens in most works.  Ok, enough of these technicalities. I don’t like making rules about this sort of thing. Did you sense that? Yep, listen to your gut!!!

%d bloggers like this: