Today I had intended to write about inspiration – those artists whose work inspires, educates and inflames me. But, as is so often the case, the best laid plans can go astray. As I wandered the aisles of the art store this morning intent on spending my gift certificate (spoils from placing third in this year’s Irving National Wildlife Art Show) I took in all the tools of the trade, those amazing but silent raw materials that allow artists to do what they do – create something out of nothing.
Rows and rows of paint tubes in every color of the rainbow. Stacks upon stacks of paper in every possible texture, size and shade. Displays of brushes poke their heads up vying for attention, all begging to be touched. Pastels, charcoal, pens, ink, canvas. All of it sitting mute on the shelf, waiting for someone to dig into them and make something. I want to buy ALL of it.
So what is essential to me in my studio? Understand, my current studio is not ideal. My husband and I share a studio space, and both of us have a LOT of stuff, so it’s a little cramped. It’s kind of dusty (despite my best efforts), the light is nice but uneven, and … did I mention it was cramped? But I have my half of the room and he has him, and we’ve each made the space ours and come here to do serious work.
The whole studio is dominated by a full wall of bookshelves. All the shelves are overfull, so there are also books stacked sideways on top and lined up on the sides, sometimes two and three rows deep. All our friends are here: Rembrandt, Sargent, Caravaggio, Audobon, Hogarth, Parrish, Wyeth, Rousseau, and Magritte. There are shelves devoted to the wizards of Disney traditional (and CG) animation, Byzantine iconography, art nouveau, art instruction, art theory, art history, figure drawing and animal anatomy. There are favorite books whose pages are smudged with paint or dusty with charcoal, and the books wear those marks like a badge of honor. Inspiration lives on those shelves, and I cannot count the number of times that being able to reach over and grab a book has saved the day… and the piece.
My drawing/ painting desk is an old architectural drafting table. The thing is massive, creaky and ancient. It tilts back and forth and slides up and down, and the surface is a much written upon self-healing matt. I’ve got all kinds of stuff scribbled on here, quotes from artists or authors, bits of songs or phrases that tickle my ear, admonitions and motivation. Since the matt is rubber, the words eventually fade away, and I can either rewrite them or add something new, providing a continuously changing inspiration board. At the moment, “The Wind of Heaven” is tacked to the board with snap clamps (another essential for me), along with a plastic glove from oil painting and a picture of my little sister.
Directly above my desk is more inspiration. The cork bulletin board is almost totally covered in tear sheets, photos, show dates, reminders, and a few odds and ends that I rather like. It’s a huge mess, but whenever I try to clean it off all the empty space makes me uneasy, so back go the photos. Some of these are future paintings, some of them are cool photos, and some of them are photos that would make wonderful paintings (or etchings), if only I could figure out how to do them. They live above my desk as a kind of permanent “tickle board”, and every once in awhile, I can pull a photo off and work a painting from it.
My oils live in a fishing tackle box, a holdover from college days. Watercolors and gouache have their own boxes, since they don’t play together very well, and my desk drawers hold a plethora of pens, inks, framing supplies, office stuff, oil pastels (I now have an entire drawer dedicated to my Sennelier oil pastels, and I am psyched!), painting mediums, and rags. All of my brushes live on my desk, loosely sorted by size and medium. My watercolor brushes are kept together in one of my water jars- an antique mason jar that has only gotten prettier with age, paint and use. I have two good lights and a comfy chair. The big Epson and my filing cabinets full of carefully sorted reference photos live on the other side of the room.
The only other thing that is absolutely integral to my studio is the dread machine I am typing on. Not only for the computer-y goodness, but because it holds quite a bit of my music collection, and it has a neat “shuffle” button. I can’t work in silence. (My husband, by contrast, works ONLY in silence, which explains why the two of us can’t work at the same time.) I listen to a wide variety of music when I’m working (or any time, really), anything from classical to Dixieland Jazz to Eminem. Right now I’m rocking out to Clare Fader and Janis Joplin, and in awhile I’ll pick up a brush and turn on Florence and the Machine and Muse. (Of course now it just shuffled to Mozart’s Requiem. Of course.)
Today’s art store haul included a bunch of yummy oil paints (and I even brought a list to prevent impulse buys!) and two wonderful new long handled brushes, both with excellent snap and a really nice feel in the hand. I can’t wait to dig into my palette later and try them out. I’ve got a few paintings to finish (and they’re so close to being done!) and it will be a great way to get to know these brushes and for them to get to know me. I think we’re going to be friends.
The envelope was the first sign. I’ve been on the receiving end of enough rejection letters to know that those are always thin. After all, it doesn’t take much paper to say “Dear Ms. Quentin, After careful consideration we regret to inform you…” blah, blah “You suck”… “Sincerely, X” Usually one single spaced sheet of paper will do it.
But this envelope was thick. Not Birds in Art thick, where the forms come in a mythically huge 9×12 envelope (or so I hear), but weighty. Several sheets of paper inside. And we all know art shows require an absurd amount of paperwork.
So I was feeling pretty good as I started to open the envelope. At least one of them got in. I bet it was…
… not at all the one I was expecting.
That’s the second time that’s happened to me now with this show. I send my 2 picks, Steve chooses a third, and voila! the third pick is the winner. Maybe I should just let him pick all of them from now on!
But I am now preparing a piece of art to ship to Kentucky, to the American Academy of Equine Art’s Fall Open Juried Exhibition. The AAEA is one of my personal “Triple Crown” art shows. AAEA membership is limited to those who are juried into three of their yearly fall exhibitions, and the fall exhibitions are usually very heavy on the applicant side. To be juried in two years ago was amazing. To be chosen twice, after only the third time I’ve entered, is awesome. Assuming I ever get juried in again, I can then submit my body of work for review and possibly be inducted as a member. Heady stuff.
There are a few shows to my mind that establish you (me) as a serious artist – the AAEA, Birds in Art and Arts for the Parks. The Arts for the Parks show is sadly defunct, and that is a true shame, because the caliber of landscape and environmental art produced for that show every year was phenomenal. I am not and have never been a landscape painter, but it was always something I wanted to try. And Arts for the Parks was the pinnacle of landscape painting.
Birds in Art originated as a tiny exhibition at a small museum in Wisconsin, and over the years has grown into possibly the finest avian art show in the world. Competition is insane to be juried into each year’s show, and they often have hundreds or thousands of entries from all over the world. I’ve only entered once (got the thin envelope) but every year I prepare to submit a piece. I never actually DO (it’s a lot like my attendance record for the (former) Budweiser Grand Prix in Tampa, in fact) but I always WANT to. I will one of these days. Got the entry deadline (tax day, in fact) already on my calendar. I’ve got time until April, right?
And then there’s the AAEA. When I was younger and decided I wanted to try this whole “painting horses for a living” thing, they were the group whose name came up constantly. With a strong emphasis on realism, traditional works, accuracy and excellence, the AAEA show every year is a special treat for an equine artist. The artists in the AAEA shows are some of the very best in the field, and the quality of work is always spectacular. To have a piece hanging at this show is a huge honor, and I am very grateful.
So… what does all this mean? I’ve already learned that I don’t consider myself an artist just because I do art. I have to be doing good art, apparently, and in order for it to be good, it has to be appreciated by someone else. It’d be phenomenal if it was appreciated with large bills of currency, but, failing that… does this count? People put art in shows for lots of different reasons. Exposure, sales, collector value, CV and resume pumping… all those things. I do it for all those things. But I also do it because I believe in artistic excellence and personal vision. No one else has your voice, not in writing, or in speech, or in art. And the ability to show your voice on a gallery wall with others whose “voices” are judged to be excellent, well… that puts you in pretty good company, doesn’t it? And maybe, for some of us, that provides validation.
Now, on to the SAA, the Draft Horse Classic and the new bird painting!
One of the advantages to being able to pursue both commissioned and self generated work is that I get to start on a lot of really cool paintings that I might never get the chance to work on if I were relying on a client commission. Many clients want a carefully controlled painting, starring themselves, their horses, their dogs or cats, their subject, etc, etc, etc. Since this is exactly what a “commissioned” painting is, I’m perfectly okay with that! If you as a client have the idea and the concept (and the money), I will paint whatever you want in any way you may desire. And hopefully at the end of the (painting) day, we both go away happy.
On the other side, there’s self generated work. This is work that is done either as a self promotion piece or a learning curve or to fit a possible show theme or simply because you have an idea that you want to try and capture in an “artistic” way. Since there’s no client looking over your shoulder, there’s no pressure to get it done a certain way, and lots of happy accidents can occur. On the other hand, unless you are shooting for a predetermined deadline (upcoming show, advertising, etc) there’s no real incentive for you to finish the thing quickly.
Sometimes these paintings sort themselves out wonderfully. They practically paint themselves, and at the end of the day, you have a nice new piece of art to hang, sell, use, enter, etc. And sometimes…
… there are the orphans.
Every artist knows what I am talking about. THOSE paintings. The ones that are just too cool to throw away, or the ones you’ve invested too much time/work/paint/frustration in to walk away from (or slink away in defeat), or the ones that are really kinda sorta NICE… if you can just figure out 1) what the problem is and 2) how to resolve it. Sometimes I’m rapturously in love with a single square inch of board, and that square inch is the sole reason for the painting’s continued existence.
This is one reason why art studios are usually pretty cluttered, by the way. It’s very hard to give up on a painting or drawing, and so they get stored away, tucked into portfolios and behind cabinets, and then they multiply like evil little failure rabbits. But every once in awhile, it’s nice to unearth them from the clutter, dust them off and see if you as the artist (and master of your own destiny) can make some magic happen.
I’ve got a bunch of show deadlines in the next few weeks. A ridiculous amount, actually, the kind of number that drives me from my bed at 4:00 in the morning to come into the studio. (Hello everybody!) And this is where the orphans come in handy.
As I write, there are 9 paintings/ drawings hanging out in the studio with me, propped up against walls or scattered on the floor. After carefully reevaluating them with fresh eyes (some of them have been in an unfinished state for several… years (sigh) now), I think there’s enough promise here in a few of them to pull out the old paintbrushes and make a concerted effort at finishing a few of the damn things, thus putting me at least a few hours ahead from the dreaded “blank canvas” stage I’d be in otherwise with deadlines looming and panic attacks and all that. Huzzah! So now instead of having to start and finish a few paintings by… oh, let’s say April 15th… now I only have to FINISH three of them. And that is much more workable. (And then start on May’s deadlines!)
Here are a few of my (favorite things) orphans that came under review this morning. If all goes well, hopefully you will see these guys in their completed incarnation this year in various and sundry venues.
All images © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011. All Rights Reserved. www.MoosePantsStudio.com
And then, just for fun, here are a few of the almost 800 (yes, 800) pictures that I took at a dressage show today. The weather was nice, the horses were gorgeous, the drive was peaceful… not a bad way to spend a Saturday. These are the moments that make life as an equine artist worth living. Enjoy!
All images © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011. All Rights Reserved. www.MoosePantsStudio.com