02 July 2014

Going away.

 Where to start. So after 1 full year of official unemployment, my benefits are coming to an end. It's been panic after panic with depression settling in and a total lack of direction.  I've tried to keep up my painting and I'd say I was getting better and getting more opportunities but not "fast enough".
It didn't help that I forged ahead to try finishing my paralegal certificate - I am close but for 100 hours more of field work that I need.  I did a 12 week internship at the Federal Public Defender Habeas Unit (Capital cases)   - which I enjoyed - and kept taking computer graphics classes as a way to keep my skills on life-support. But.... a two-unemployed-people household is a place you don't want to be, trust me. Income is needed. Career changes can't take place in a vacuum and every piece of advice sounds as hollow as when you have a death in the family.

So when a job in London came up, I said 'yes'. Think about the consequences later.  And the consequences are heart wrenching. Most importantly, I'll have to be away from Armando and we are not happy.

But this blog is about art and its vicissitudes. 
I am more determined to paint than ever. And I'll do whatever it takes including stop painting to take a job in London. But this means some things needed to be taken care of:

 Sold my studio furnishings, my frames, my paints and even my easel to lighten the load on our household  while I am away and in case we need to do the "nomad" thing like so many of our former colleagues have done. I know it sounds paradoxical but I believe less stuff will help me focus.

My studio fire-sale.

Sold my art books. That was hard. 

Books now  gone. Inspiration comes from paintings.
Destroyed about 40 to 50 paintings that didn't cut it. I can't sell them because it wouldn't be fair to the people that have paid good money for the ones they have. I also got rid of some early works (from 1983 no less).

Pile of now destroyed paintings.
3) Cancelled a lot of shows I had scheduled. Good ones too like the Laguna Plein Air and a show at the Debra Huse gallery. This was probably the hardest thing to do but I can't commit to the effort without some pre-investment.

At the Debra Huse Gallery. "Family by the sea" 11"x14"

 I am taking my paints to London. Whenever I can paint, I will. I am also contacting some British painters in hopes of having some incentive to get out. However, I expect work will take 110% of my time as this is a new job and a new company.

On the brighter  side, I have a new gallery representing me: Hillside Fine Art in Claremont, California.  I've also dipped my toes in the interior decorator market that I can think can generate some great opportunities. And I have two new shows coming up right before I leave.  After all, it's only six months, I might be back. I even took a day to travel to San Diego and visit the "Sorolla in America" exhibition. Out of this world.

"Ephebe Fountain"  12"x9"Hillside Gallery, Claremont

I wish I could say I've learned something from this. But all I have found out is that yet again, I have to keep postponing my painting again and again...and again, just to make a living "right now".  I 've learned that the Unemployment Office couldn't give a flying  crap about your desire to be an artist ...but you knew that and why should they :).  I've learned there is not such thing as living outside of risk. Someone recommended I do "visualizations", well, it might work but the gap between where I am and what I visualize is a vast chasm to say the least.  

I type this in a muggy apartment surrounded by boxes. My partner just got more bad news from the labor front. But here is some visualizing for you: This is Dennis Zieminski studio in Glen Ellen. I like Dennis, he deserves the studio he's got and he works hard. That's irrelevant, I'm visualizing....


11 May 2014


Scattered. I've been calling myself that for a while now and it's time to take an informed pause. Running around trying to "do" everything is just wearing me down and it's like trying to build three houses at the same time, with different blueprints and materials and locations. You spend more time running between the houses than actually building them. 

From my last post it is clear that I cannot live from painting just yet. By character,  I am not willing to risk it all in the pursuit of expensive and self-fulfilling marketing strategies. I'd be glad to teach workshops but need to invest in serious transportation and again,  more marketing, more business structure. What can I say, my taste for risk is limited considering how "wrong" would look like and how clueless I still am. Here's to mentors' and supportive families (mine is, they are just too far.)

So I'm putting my painting on hold. No more shows, contests, memberships and no more framing (yay). I will paint, I can NOT help it, I will blog  until financing it competes with food and housing. I will talk about art till I'm blue in the face but job-finding is the new urgent matter that trumps the only thing that matters to me. Need to be cold and calculating (ha!)  about that.

Here are some pieces I did for the Segil and Tirage Galleries' sponsored outing at Arlington Gardens in Pasadena. I sold one painting which is great. And I truly enjoyed the scenery and I think it shows. Summer has started in Los Angeles and that's the time when I want to crawl in the freezer and not come out till October.

"Step Inside"10"x8"

"Time is of the essence" 12"x9"

"The Breeze" 14"x11"

30 January 2014

The numbers

Ok, so here are the announced numbers in as stark a way as numbers can have to deliver bad news. By the way, I pondered again and again whether I should post them. Is it tacky? Is it an invitation to unwanted attention from the IRS? Hardly. The IRS will be sorely disappointed.
My goal posting this as I've stated many times is mostly to help me confront them and may be help other artists confront theirs. Numbers have a wonderful (and horrible)  way of delivering the truth.

Last year, from painting and workshops I made a total of $36,530 . Sounds good! Call the tax agents!
Not so fast. That is the gross. 
After gallery and venue commissions,  I only took 63% of that gross:  $22,960$ . Uh-oh. That is also subject to taxation and I haven't done my taxes yet so I expect even less.
And then there are the pervasive Expenses. I am including the following categories of expenses:
Framing, Art Supplies, Entry and Membership fees and Studio rent. I am also accounting to a certain degree for some meals and gas while on painting trips. This expense list does NOT include things like rent, groceries, insurance, cell phone, etc...

So after expenses I am left with an optimistic 9K for the whole year. Not so good anymore. About 3,000 dollars below poverty level for a family of 1 actually.With the 13K I got from unemployment insurance for the year (try living on that), I've been able to cope.

The good news is that I sold of lot of artwork. The bad news is that I won't make a living selling it, at least not yet. The good news is that I can see people respond to my artwork . The bad news is that right now I am devoting all my energy to finding a job, retraining as a paralegal and taking  Maya and Nuke and Photoshop classes.

On a side note:   After seeing the Zorn exhibit in San Francisco through the prism of my situation, I realized that fabulous careers in art are usually made by great artists, duh, people whose amazing talent spoke for itself -first-. (Sorolla, Sargent, Zorn, they didn't need to advertise... lucky them.)
Marketing is great and necessary, it can make the difference between doing what you love and staying put in a lousy job. If a painting takes your breath away however, that's its own advertising. While I  like my paintings well enough  and I think I should promote them, I need to get better or win some awards or both. At least until I can spend the money on ads.

In any case,  these numbers are exactly what I needed to make decisions going forward and finish the rest of my business plan.  If I can't paint, life has little to offer so back to looking for a job.  Oh, and here is a painting, just for  kicks.

"The Castro, San Francisco" 9"x12"

14 December 2013

The "shuttle" job and the season.

Time for another rant... Not attractive.  I'll try to make it funny.

It's been a rough December. I'm keeping all the fires burning by updating my computer graphics skills through unemployment grants (not nearly enough time or $$ but I love Concept art and Photoshop now) , trying to bolster my plan B which is becoming a paralegal (One more semester) and, oh yes,  painting. I'm the busiest unemployed person you'll meet. Why so much, well,  you never know. People say you have to be ready when opportunity knocks -or luck strikes- either way. Also, you are supposed to create your own opportunities and cultivate your talents and what not....

What, you don't believe I might become a paralegal? Perish the thought! Here I am on a field trip  of the Phi Alpha Delta paralegal fraternity to the Richard H. Chambers 9th Circuit Apellate Court in Pasadena  posing  with judge Paul J. Watford in his chambers and looking at the view from his window instead of the camera. I asked if I could paint from there, he said no, politely.

Don't you just hate bumper sticker advice. I think they complicate things actually. I hate bumper  sticker "wisdom". One favorite..."Follow your passion".  Should come with a warning, flashing lights and a picture of ALL of those who did and are strewn in that path to their passions. It's grim.  Have you noticed only successful people quote that every chance they get?

Food for thought 1) May be your passion is what you learn to be good at. It s not handed to you, it is something you discover you can do well. And then, it becomes your passion, not the other way around.

So I am busy as hell but the most relevant realization came to me through my very depressing search for jobs. In the form of an epiphany. One uttered by Sylvia, a friendly face in the unemployment office.  Epiphany comes from the Greek "manifestation".  So this Sylvia, who became  a very nice lady once Armando met her because my Armando can charm a rock into  pudding,  "manifested to me"  that I was using my former job to support my painting like the Boeing carried the Shuttle to Los Angeles. So while painting looked like a "hobby" because it wasn't the main money producing enterprise, it really was what I was aiming  to protect. Even if it meant being miserable at work. 

See, I don't see me doing anything but painting so it's hard to gather up the enthusiasm to keep sending resume after resume. My former job looks so remote now . It's quite unsettling because to make things worse  I was cursed with a fabulous job with some very special attributes, people that bordered genius  and made you feel inept all the time  and good money. How do you follow that up? Still, it was just holding the metaphorical shuttle. It was a"shuttle job". Plain as day.

Food for thought 2) Being fulfilled in your job is quite a new concept. People didn't use to be able to afford to think in those terms. If your job makes you unhappy you probably suck at it, seriously. If you were good at it, you would be passionate about it. So either it is supporting something else  that makes you happy or you can quit now and get to be good at something else.

 People stop in the street and say "Oh, what a blessing to have that talent. I wish I could paint. " Or something of that sort. Of course they are just trying to be nice and it is great  that they feel that way. But my answer lately goes more like snapping "I wish I had a talent to make money, then I would actually be able to paint." or " I wish I had an entrepreneurial bone in my noggin' , sir,  just one."  No one can accuse me of *not* being dramatic. But it bugs me a little that people think that someone gave me this talent and that I had a say in the matter. I cannot not paint unless forced by chains, get it?

Food for thought 3) If you truly fully believe in God and you believe that this God gave you enough talents to succeed and has a plan of some sort,  you have the advantage of that belief and neither hunger nor homelessness  nor lack of health insurance should scare you because death is not the end.  I don't believe in a God, I want as a good a life as I can get while I'm alive  and I recognize this is my disadvantage because all my risk taking is measured but I could not pretend otherwise.

So the bottom line is that I still search for  another Boeing to carry this shuttle. I'm committed to keep the shuttle flying until it can do it alone.  Or just crash. What that means is that I don't really care what job I do or how I make money as long as it s not too illegal, too unhealthy or too demeaning (even though I'll make exceptions if the money is good :)  ). There are things I'd enjoy for sure like Concept Art, Paralegal work of substance, Museum assistant, etc... but I wouldn't be opposed to cleaning toilets. I have a great respect for people that clean toilets actually. In my view, they beat hedge fund managers  at societal usefulness. If you are a hedge fund manager, relax, you can handle a slur thrown in your marbled living room.

Food for thought 4) If you pursue just one thing, you are very likely to obtain it. I think people that have this type of monorail ambition are the luckiest people.  The second group of luckiest people is the people that do not regret abandoning pursuits the moment they get boring.

What. You don't believe I'm learning Photoshop? Here is a  painting  fully generated through Photoshop.

Being the depressive type  Christmas is such a f-ed up time - excuse my French-  but it is. One good thing is Los Angeles is actually bearable this time of year. It is the best time to paint in Los Angeles right now. Sorry Minnesotans. California in general, actually. So to switch the mood a little, here are some of my favorite things I painted recently in this wonderful weather we are having.

First , San Francisco. I HAVE to go back to see the Zorn show but I was there early November and managed to paint a few pieces that sold very well to great people.

"Fillmore" 9x12 sold.

Octavia, 14"x11"
"Lyon Steps" 8x10
 I should mention Vayermo, CA next. What a great location to paint in  Autumn. None of the heat, all of the desert color. I visited it twice.

"Valyermo" 11x14

The Ballona wetlands. I went there as part of a commission. Great location with a bit of water.

Balloan Wetlands. 11x14

As an aside. some lessons learned  about commissions. Especially large ones:
1) Draft a written agreement of what you will do and what you won't and for how much.
2) The agreement should include price, deadlines, approval of preliminary work procedures, delivery date and payment arrangements.
3) Your client should know your work and know what to expect.
4) Keep your client informed at regular intervals, even if you did nothing. Keep the commission fresh.
 5) Spell out details like framing, transport, delivery,ownership of preparatory work, budget.  It will save you many headaches.

 And here are some pics of a commission that had none of that and -because of that- might or might not ever end.

"Bruin Walk" 30"x40"

Selfie with Royce Hall painting 38"x46"


 In my next post I will declare how much money I actually made from painting based on my accounting this year. 2013  I will reveal how much I sold, how much it cost me to sell and purchase materials, pay fees and  pay gallery and show percentages.  I bet you can't wait. Some might think this is tacky but how on earth are people going to come up with an art business plan -remember I said gazillions of years ago I was working on one? - if you can't put it on paper.

28 October 2013

Laguna Plein Air 2013

"Outcrop" 12"x16" SOLD

This is the first year I was  invited to this event and I hope it's not the last. It's also the first year the event didn't take Place at the Laguna Art Museum. The organizers decided to move the venue to Aliso Creek Resort with the burden of having to transform the place overnight for the occasion. But they did rise to the challenge with flying colors and it was ..well, spectacular.

Looking at the roster of artists is enough to make anyone nervous. This is the big leagues so to speak. Once I arrived and once I was (luxuriously)  accommodated I proceeded to the Orientation and  Quick Draw which takes place at the very beginning on Sunday Morning. ( Note to event organizers : The Parking Tag they gave us so we could park anywhere in Laguna without time limit was insanely helpful.) We were shuttled to Treasure Island/Montage Resort. I didn't walk far. My bit of experience tells me that too much searching can be counterproductive. So I settled for a beach scene very quickly.

"Crashing" 12"x9" SOLD
This decision proved to be a good one. Karen,  who bought this painting and upon the insistence of her friend Barbara,  invited me to visit the community where she lived: Three Arch Bay, and gave me access to its beach which is mostly closed to the general public. I am somewhat cautious when people invite me to paint something because what makes a good painting is not always a good view. But I couldn't have hoped for better scenery. The beach was absolutely beautiful with great rock formations and light.  I spent the next two days and a half in this secluded beach painting away with no incident beyond being trapped by the tide.

"Three Arch Bay" 12"x16" SOLD  Winner of the Sennelier Award
"Three Arch Morning" 11"x14" SOLD
 I also managed a few downtown scenes in between. Laguna's main subjects are the coast, the canyons and the human environment. Ok, everything. The weather was phenomenal. I soon noticed that all the painters were going for large formats. Sometimes VERY large formats so I decided to up the ante and stayed close to the higher formats I normally paint with which are 12x16's . I think I enjoyed it so much more I might reserve the smaller formats for really quick sketches from now on. Paintings that would become larger paintings but not necessarily be up for sale.

"School on a Day Like This" 10"x8"
"Greeter's Corner, Laguna" 9"x12" SOLD

As my "quota" was being filled I decided to take some risks and capture more unusual scenery. The paint out at the Aliso Creek resort  was great. It is a golf resort but it is nestled in a canyon with beautiful rocks, trees and a creek.  This was the birthplace of Laguna.  I had the good fortune of painting the piece bellow with Thomas Kitts who is always fun and instructive to have around. Thomas is an innate teacher and always had great advice. I also attended the Heisler Park paint out with students from the Laguna School of Art.

"Eucalyptus Drama"11"x14" SOLD.
"Heisler Mood" 12"x9"
The day of the Gala we were greeted by a giant tent erected to display the  artwork and provide a generous meal to collectors and patrons as well as the artists. I was awarded the Sennelier/Savoir Faire Award by the delightful Vanessa Rothe of Savoir Faire  and I sold seven paintings in total. Not bad.

Me and the award.

Me, Greg Vail and Vanessa Rothe.
After all the awards and selling, I  was pretty much done but I rarely visit this neck of the woods so two more paintings were in order. One for the owner of my (did I say luxurious) dwelling, Nancy, and one for kicks. I also visited the Irvine Museum with none other than Jean Stern ,the director, and Debra Huse. The Museum's show on California Impressionism is a must. Here are my last two paintings and a group photo of the massive talent gathered by this one-of-a-kind event. Big Thank you to Rosemary Swimm, Greg Vail and EVERYONE that contributed to this amazing moment in time and art.

"Capistrano Arches" 11"x14'

"Treasure Hunt" 12'x9" Nancy Patch collection.

23 September 2013

Sonoma Interlude

As in all the plein air events, after all is said, painted and done, the statisticians in all of us come up and start wondering, why didn't I sell more, why did others sell more? etc..  Useless exercise if there ever was one but unavoidable. Each one takes their own conclusions home and a few intimate their findings. It's always an algorithm with evanescent variables between  weather, name recognition, size, subject, local fame, price range, etc... My conclusion: warm muted paintings in the 5x7 to 11x14 range mostly of agricultural subjects by painters with a record (not criminal). Immediately after that, I throw my conclusion to the wind. My intention from the start was to challenge myself to larger pieces and avoid the obvious. Water was a big attraction to me stuck as I am in a waterless place....Oh , I did pander, yes i did, I painted the Sonoma Square, I admit it. And it didn't work as I expected. So there you have it.

So don't expect me to say you should paint this or that in this event because it will be as useless to you as it should be.  The out o'sight paintings sold and many of the very good ones sold if they were attached to painters with a history. The quality of everyone's work was outstanding and there were many watercolorists which I found refreshing.

Moving on, this was my second year doing this event and even though the organizers changed the dates to minimize the chance of rain, it rained, on the day of the sale... oodles. That didn't deter the brave souls actually interested in buying artwork so I think it was success overall but numbers will tell. 

The organizers did an OUTSTANDING  job yet again at providing lodging, booths, lunches and plenty of occasions to mingle. I do think this is one of the best plein air events in that regard. 40% of the profits go to support art school programs in the county so it is a very worthy cause too which pushes artists and collectors to make it work. Sonoma is a wealthy county with breathtaking landscapes so it's a perfect conspiracy of sorts. Well, except for the rain on the sale day but I'm sure the farmers were delighted.

At the gala reception with "Petaluma reeds" 9"x12" sold.

Gala dinner and silent bid at the Fairmont Resort.
  In a brief summary of my brilliant location scouting (not at all) this year I decided to venture to Petaluma - which wasn't too far - in hopes of some river scenes. Petaluma is a bit of a suburb with a charming town but not the sweeping river vistas I was hoping for. It's a convenient painting location and I did a couple of paintings while avoiding the "too quaint" city center. May be I went overboard with the grain elevator piece below. It was the contrast of the huge shadow mass against the wisp of smoke and the water that made me decide on the subject.  The fact that I added a guy in a canoe tells me I was concerned about  the stark industrial theme even though it is the light/shade pattern that originally motivated me. 

Petaluma grain elevator. 14"x11' Jacobson collection.
One of the luncheons was provided at Quarryhill Botanical gardens. It is commendable that the organizers talk to places like these beforehand into letting us camp there. They make sure the locations  are also very scenic. Quarryhill isn't only lovely but it has ponds and a vineyard as well. That's where I painted the "Velvet Juice" piece below attracted again by the play of light and the contrast with the velvety grapes.

"Velvet juice' 10"x8" Quarryhill Gardens.
On a couple of occasion I decided to aim for the coast as Bodega Bay was in everyone's mouth. Aiming as I did, the ditch by the road, barely a mile away from where I was staying , was what I ended up painting. It has water in it, of course. Never mind the dead raccoon stench, the steps going down into the creek were too much to resist in a "create your own metaphor" way. 
" In the ditch" 10"x8"
Ah, but the dead raccoon was nothing compared to the troubles that I endured painting this idyllic apple orchard in Sebastopol. Looks innocent enough doesn't it? It was a day of gorgeous clouds and a premonition of weather coming our way. I arranged for permission to paint and no sooner had I set up my easel, strong, persistent winds started kicking the thin dust and making it swirl all around in little tornadoes that toppled my easel twice, covered my car and kept me sniffling for the remaining two days. This painting is oil ...and soil, on canvas. I'm sure a few flies also left their lives and opinions on the surface. The trees were covered in apples because it is apparently not profitable to pick them these days and farmers prefer to let them rot instead of incurring a loss.

"Them apples" 12'x16"

 But the Sonoma landscape is like a pillow for the senses. It's the farms that accent the mellow hills that make it into a visual church. I was driving around Petaluma when I came upon the clean geometry of this landscape. This painting falls into the category of artwork I was talking about at the beginning, that sales algorithm . It happens to be one of my favorites and it went to a collector which I hope will enjoy it as much as I did.

"Pointing to heaven" 8"x10" Petaluma. Sold

Right after the golden farm, I started chasing the harvest moon around. It was late and very dark when I settled for a nocturne. I painted "Stagger back home" also in Petaluma. It represents a liquor store by the side of the road. No light other than a headlamp was used. I was situated across the store in a pitch black junkyard. I kept hearing a shufflle of bushes and smelling intense whiffs of marihuana but never saw anybody. I finished this one fast but it turned out pretty interesting.

"Stagger back home, Jack" 10"x8"

This piece below was painted on Lakeville road south of Petaluma. On a rickety old river harbor. It took me a while to render the intricate latticework of the dock. It's a wonderful place to paint and the owner of the place is the chihuahua Rosie which made it to the painting as well. She has plenty of work in this derelict spot without us painters coming around to  cause trouble.

"Dock owner" 9"x12"
Twelve paintings total. Some of theme are here. A quick draw piece, And  this one also done close to where I stayed in Glen Ellen. Sonoma has become one of my favorite events. The artists and the organization are fantastic and a model to follow.

"Morning Breat" 11"x14" Glen Ellen

New Friend and phenomenal ukrainian artis Anton Pavlenko
Daniel Aldana and Dan Schulz paint at Quarryhill.
Chuck Kovacic, unable to pose without flair.

My soggy booth.