Spring in my step

What a difference a week makes. Last week the earth was still pretty brown and bare in our neck of the woods, but this week heralded in some lovely warm springlike weather. And with that came the flowers. Cherry blossoms and spring blooming magnolias seemed to open up over night, along with the daffodils and forsythia. I always feel such a great sense of hope and renewal in the springtime.

Tuesday is one of my two "long days" that I have to work, so I readied myself Monday night for my plein air outing. I decided that since this was my first plein air painting in a while, I should kick off with a known quantity. So I paid a visit to Maymont Park. This would prevent me from wasting time driving around looking for the perfect spot, as I had visited the week prior with my daughter and knew exactly where I wanted to set up. 

"Spring Renewal", Oil on Panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Spring Renewal", Oil on Panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

Just one week earlier, I had brought my daughter to this beautiful park, and at the blooms were still pretty new. I was hoping against hope they would endure, and luckily I wasn't disappointed. Here's a shot of my work setting for the morning. Not a bad way to punch the time card, eh?

My plein air painting in process

My plein air painting in process

I retired the Soltek last summer after a trip to the beach kind of did it in. These days I'm really enjoying my Coulter Easel. It's fast, easy and sturdy. Here's my setup:

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I've had a piece of Plexiglas cut to fit in the palette area. The brush holder is an envelope style with a little loop on the top, allowing me to loop it over the handle of my tripod and tuck into the back of the palette. The little jars are holding my oil and solvent free medium. You can't really see it in this picture, but those two clips on the left wing of the palette hold a mesh basket that I picked up in the $1 - $3 bin at Target. It has pockets around the perimeter suitable for holding the tubes of paint I reach for most often. I prefer this basket over a plastic bag for my dirty paper towels because it stays open. Also, it doesn't blow around in the wind. 

I've only had this easel since the fall and it's already smeared with paint. I'm a slob; it's a problem. In any event, I look forward to smearing it up even more this spring!

A new look and a new painting!

There were times this week when I really doubted that this announcement would come, but I finally have my new website up. Hurray! There were a few glitches along the way (and there still may be some kinks to work out yet) but overall I am pretty happy with the fresh new look.

Speaking of fresh and new, I'll also share a newly finished painting.

"Daytrippers, Lake Como, Cobra Oils on linen,  20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

"Daytrippers, Lake Como, Cobra Oils on linen,  20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

I actually blogged about the start of this piece a while ago but I got to a point where I just had to take it off of the easel for a while and let it marinate. Sometimes the best way to approach a problem is to do something completely different for a while , so that's exactly what I did. When I was ready to return I could look at it with new eyes (albeit bloodshot ones from staying up late trying to get my website up and running) and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

A new thing-a-majig and a new painting

In the wake of the plein air weekend I wrote of in my last post, last week was mostly a recovery week for me. I did manage to get a new studio painting started, however. This is the initial tonal sketch on a 20x24" linen canvas.

Tonal sketch

Tonal sketch

This painting  may prove to be a challenge for me because much of this scene is in shadow. But there are a few pops of light that I am arranging in strategic places that I hope will carry the painting. Hey, you never know unless you try, right?

As with the other recent studio oils, I'm working with water miscible paints. One thing I'm noticing with these paints is that the paint blobs on my palette tend to gum up a little quicker once they are laid out, especially when I can't get back to the studio within a day. The manufacturer, Royal Talens recommends in their product info to mist the unused paints with a little water and cover  with foil to keep them moist and reduce the exposure to air. I have never liked putting plastic or foil directly on my paints though, because I feel that it wastes too much in the removal (yes I realize there is a bit of faulty logic in there but we all have our pet peeves).  So I'm experimenting with this:

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What you are seeing is a basic 9x13" cake pan covered with a silicone doo-jobby that I found on Amazon. It is supposed to create an airtight seal, and the cake pan is deep enough that this cover-thing doesn't actually touch the paint. Whether it will be sufficient to keep the paint from oxidizing remains to be seen. I haven't been back at the easel since Saturday so I guess I will find out this morning when I go to work. I will report back with my findings, as well as an update on my progress with the painting, in an upcoming post.

Just Out Back

Yesterday after I sent my little one off to her new adventures as a kindergartener, I decided I'd better become acquainted with my new plein air box in advance of an upcoming painting trip I will be taking. Yes , play the funeral march. My Soltek finally died.  Actually, it's now a studio easel. I might be able to resuscitate it next time I have extra cash lying around to send it off for a "tune-up", but the legs seized up after my beach trips and no amount of squirting them out with a hose has made them functional again.

Enter the Coulter paint box. I had heard a lot of really good things about the design of this box and after much deliberating between it and several other really good boxes, I decided to pull the trigger and go for this one. So far I really like it. I need to paint with it a bit more before I feel qualified to review it, but I plan to at some future point when it has a bit more mileage.

Given that I wasn't all that familiar with my new setup, I thought I'd take it easy on myself and paint a simple painting on our own property:

"Just Out Back" Oil on linen, 12x12"©Jennifer Young

"Just Out Back" Oil on linen, 12x12"©Jennifer Young

Turns out this was actually a complicated little composition, but I stuck with it and felt happy with the way it was resolved. Sometimes the challenge is to make something interesting out of where you are, instead of finding the exact perfect subject matter.  I liked the light on that little shed, and the shadows created by that crazy basket thing hanging on the side that was left here by the previous owners. And after all, when it comes to plein air painting, it's all about the light.

Commissions, part III; wrapping it up!

In my last two posts, I took you through the proposal process of one of my recent commissions. If you wish to read this series from the beginning, start with Part I, followed by Part II. Today I'd like to share with you how the commissioned paintings turned out. I also have a few thoughts on commissions in general; both what to expect if you are a collector, and how to consider going about them, if you are an artist.

After having submitted my proposals for both of the paintings, I have now received the go-ahead to proceed. Here are the two completed paintings:

"The Potted Garden II", Oil on linen, 16x12" (SOLD) © Jennifer E Young

"The Potted Garden II", Oil on linen, 16x12" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

"The Corner Shop, Roussillon", Oil on Linen, 16x12" (SOLD) © Jennifer E Young

"The Corner Shop, Roussillon", Oil on Linen, 16x12" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

I’m very glad to say that the client expressed great satisfaction with the two paintings and they are now framed and in their new home.

Commissions are great experiences for artists because they push us to think about our art from a new perspective. Yes, as artists we all want our work to stand on its own. At the same time, nothing exists in a vacuum, and I am ok (and in fact, really flattered) with the knowledge that my paintings will coexist with other art in a collection, as well as other family heirlooms that will be important and valued by a family, possibly for generations.  So it’s a great honor to even be asked about commission work and I am always happy to discuss that possibility and to converse in-depth about not only the art but the environment where the art is intended to be placed. With this in mind, here are a few things to note that make commissioned work a special animal, worthy (apparently) of three blog posts!

1) The Conversation

The conversation ( usually more than one) is probably the single most important element of any commission. This is the artist’s opportunity to gather all of the relevant information about size, environment, and (very important) color preferences. Color, in fact, is the one topic that comes up rather emphatically in nearly every conversation I have with prospective commission clients. It’s understandable, as color elicits so many varying emotions.

Ideally these conversations would be done face-to-face, but that is usually either not possible or practical. Most of my commissions have actually been negotiated, in fact, via email and phone. In these cases, Photoshop is definitely my friend!

2) The Proposal:

This is where I do my best to incorporate the ideas and desires of the client into a work of art. Sometimes, as in the examples I’ve provided in these last couple of posts, I have studies or compositions already worked out. In these cases, I just use my old buddy Photoshop.  More often, though, I am creating something from scratch. In these cases I will submit asketch with color notes, as well as a few of my photo references that I will use to incorporate some elements into the composition. The more visual examples given at this stage, the better.

3) The Approval:

The next step is to await the feedback of the client, or, if things go really smoothly, await the client’s approval to proceed.

3) The Deposit:

This topic is often one that people don’t like to talk about, but it’s an essential part of many artists’ working methods, so I am going to throw this horse right on out there on the middle of the dining room table. As artists, we need to decide for ourselves our best practices so that we feel good about the work we are doing.

Earlier in my career, I did not ask for a deposit for most of my commissions. As long as I felt like I was able to sell the work in a gallery if needed and that it didn’t stray too far from the rest of my body of work,  I felt okay about working on speculation. Times change though and though the vast majority of my experiences were excellent, an odd one or two “hiccups”, as well as certain life experiences (like having a child)  helped to shape my perspective on the boundaries I should set for myself and my work.

Nowadays, with few exceptions I require a deposit to proceed. This would occur once my proposal has been approved by the client.  The amount is either 1/2 down, or, if it is a very large and involved commission, 1/3 down, 1/3 at approval half-way, and 1/3 prior to delivery. Most collectors are okay with this arrangement and understand the whole working -for-compensation thing. I also think they appreciate that that it is to everyone’s advantage that there is a commitment made to secure the agreement.

A deposit doesn’t just cover an artist’s materials, by the way. It also covers her time. Keep in mind that a proposal already commands a good deal of time and effort to prepare. Time is the most precious commodity I have. It is up to each individual to determine how they wish to work and what they want to spend their time working on.

4) Art Direction

Some artists are more ok with art direction than others. Having had a taste of the heavy-handed variety, I can most definitely state that I am not in favor.  [;-)]  This is not to say that I am adverse to hearing client’s preferences and feedback!  This is the whole point of “The Conversation”, and I do welcome it if a minor adjustment is desired. However, I can’t start over with a new concept, (which would mean a new painting) make profuse alterations, or do anything that I feel would greatly compromise the integrity of the painting.

Most clients understand, and I do my best to clarify in advance,  that any painting I make is going to be unique,  nota copy–either of my own work or anyone else’s . Beyond preference in color and subject, a collector commissions an artist because the artist has his or her own voice, and it’s up to the artist, ultimately, to determine the best expression of their idea. In other words….Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

All joking aside, most people are really very happy to let the artist do her thing.  In fact, “that thing she does” is the whole reason the client was attracted to her work to begin with. Nevertheless, it’s good policy, and indeed it’s the artist’s responsibility to clarify all of that with the client so that expectations are managed. Of course, every commission is unique and there are definitely nuances thatcan vary my approach to a certain degree. The key is to keep communication lines open and to be open to honest feedback.

This just about wraps up my commission process, or at least the highlights. If there is anything I have missed, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. If you are an artist, feel free to share how you handle your own commissions. I would most especiallywelcome the thoughts of collectors (or potential collectors) also. Have you ever commissioned an artist? What was your experience? Let me hear from you!