Paint for money…or paint for love?

If you’ve been an artist for any time at all….say more than a minute or two…you will begin to wonder what to do with all your wonderful creations.  Maybe the closet is full, or they’re being stacked in the back room or your studio.  Maybe someone in your house is urging you either subtly or more strenuously to get rid of that stuff!

I’m not really sure where the notion that creating something with the intention to sell it became tainted, particularly for artists.  After all, we have bills to pay, food to put on the table, braces to buy for the kids.  I can’t really think of any other profession where not making any money by your labor is considered a good thing.  So unless you are willing to live rough and sacrifice some of the niceties like flush toilets and a shelter, then you must really give some thought to creating in order to make money.

I painted several of these little pumpkins in watercolor with pen and ink outlines. They were fun to do. I sent them as postcards to some friends and will probably add them to one of my online shops.

This doesn’t mean that you should only consider the financial aspects of your work, but it should be in the equation somewhere. I think the key here is to find balance between doing what you love to do and making some things to sell. 

For instance, I did art fairs around the country for many years.  This can be a rough way to make a living but I knew quite a few artists who made their entire living doing fairs.  Packing up the vans and trucks, carting everything across the miles, setting up in various weather conditions….not easy.  But some of the artists and crafters loved the lifestyle.  Live up north in the summers; move to warmer climates in the winter.  I even knew a couple of jewelry makers who floated around the Gulf of Mexico all winter long, only stopping long enough to catch their mail.  They would then put the push on to hit the art fair circuit from May through September. 

I actually enjoyed talking with patrons.  I had figured that I could sell at least one red painting per show.  (For some reason, people always have room for a red painting.)  And I would have my big showstopper paintings which would entice people into my booth in the first place although they often settled for something more modestly priced. My bread and butter work were the all original line of fruit and vegetable paintings that I did, all 8 x 10, matted and wrapped.  Yes, that felt more like production work but well…

Since the advent of the internet, the world of options has expanded exponentially.  We’ve all become accustomed to shopping from our laptops or phones.  You can set up shops at Etsy or Ebay or your own websites for very low fees.  And guess what?  You don’t have to worry about the weather, either!  There are print on demand sites, and group websites, the list is endless.

But that brings us back.  What to sell? 

A couple of my autumn minis. Themes such as apples and pumpkins are very popular, but I also do small autumn landscapes for variety.

Here is where a little trial and error comes in.  Or just walk around some galleries, gift shops, art fairs, etc.  Do some online research, too.  (You can get ideas but don’t copy!)  What do you like to do?  Make chairs?  Do you really think you can sell those $2,000 masterpieces?  Well, maybe…eventually.  But how about looking at what you do like to do, then trying to scale it back?  You don’t have to give up the big, challenging pieces.  Those are what inspire you to keep going.  Your style may change over time.  That’s OK.  Maybe you’ll look back in ten years and wonder what you were thinking when you made it.  Or maybe it will be a collector’s item and the crowds will be demanding that you make more, and bigger.

I guess the bottom line here is that don’t let anyone tell you that you’re selling out if you decide to devote at least part of your time to creating work that has a ready market.  You’re not.  You’re trying to stay in the game and affording yourself the opportunity to make more, bigger, and better creations.  So, unless you have a large trust fund or a very wealthy sponsor, just keep digging in and keep on keeping on. You only have to answer to yourself. 

These are a few holiday minis that I’ve created over the years. Many times I’ll repeat a theme, or print them on cards. I sell these mini paintings online and in local gift shops. Each one is painted separately so they’re all individual but very similar.

Dealing with Rejection

Italian Eating Italian – Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread Series. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30. Kit Miracle

Having your art rejected from a show or exhibition can often be baffling, and sometimes a bit painful.  Even for someone like me who has been entering shows for nearly forty years, there is still a little twinge when I receive that rejection letter.  More often I am just puzzled.

For instance, the painting above, Italian Eating Italian which is from my Intimate Space Series: Breaking Bread, and which was exhibited for a two month show.  It received a lot of attention and was a favorite among many.  It exudes a bonhomie and welcoming attitude.  I would watch visitors gravitate towards the painting from across the gallery.  Something about the hint of a smile, the subject matter, the lighting.  It was a very popular painting.

I have since entered the painting in a couple of exhibits.  One in which I felt sure it would be accepted…was instead rejected.  Whaaaaaa????  I’ve been in that show in previous years but not this year.  That pinched a little.  Also, since I have attended the show in previous years, I was aware of the quality of portraits in the show.  Not too impressed.  Oh, well.

The same painting was later entered into another show.   It won BEST OF SHOW.  That is always a pleasant surprise.  But I try not to get too full of myself, either. 

The whole point is that on any given day, the selection could have gone either way.  Best to keep that in mind.

I have been the judge for a number of shows over the years.  It is not easy and sometimes the organizations have special conditions to be met:  X number of landscapes, portraits, abstracts, etc.  Sometimes the shows are open to members only.  On any given day, the selections could go one way or another.

Many times over the years, I’ve sat with judges as they reviewed and selected the entrants for exhibits.  Some judges are cursory and flippant about the matter, speeding through so they can get to their free lunch.  Others review and review and review, taking enormous amounts of time to make their selections.  And there have been a few who only seemed to focus on artists who paint in their own style or medium.  That irritates me quite a bit.

Over the years my work has been accepted into shows which I now realize I probably wasn’t skilled or talented enough to actually merit being in.  And other shows where my work and experience exceeded the expectations, it was rejected.

It’s a puzzle.  

My suggestion is….no matter what your artistic talent or medium….to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back into the fray.  Maybe a review of the exhibit will help you to get a better grasp of what was considered acceptable and desirable.  Maybe you don’t (yet) have the skills or professionalism to have your work hung in the exhibit.  Maybe it just wasn’t your year.  Many times you can enter the exact same piece the following year with a different judge and it will be accepted.

If this is what you really want, don’t give up.  Be objective about your work and keep trying.  It will happen eventually. 

Italian Eating Italian, close up of head. Notice the slight Mona Lisa smile.

Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes!

It’s that time of year in the garden.  I have been picking tomatoes by the five-gallon bucket load.  The freezer is full and we have just about run out of room. 

We have been growing tomatoes for decades.  We try different varieties.  Some years we like this one, another year we might like another one. This year I decided to make a semi-scientific analysis of the different varieties that we usually gravitate to.

First of all, I don’t start any plants from seed anymore. Been there, done that.  I can usually find a good variety in the local stores and garden centers.  Also, we don’t use any sprays and rarely fertilizer (none this year.)  But I do rotate the crops in the garden so the same thing is not planted in the same place each year. 

This is my schematic for the tomato part of the garden.

This year I planted fifteen tomato plants (not counting the five that I planted in the spring garden).  I have planted as many as sixty-four plants in the past but that is ridiculous.  The varieties that I planted this year are:  Goliath, San Marzano, Roma, Better Boy, Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, and Park Whopper.  Not counting the cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear).  I did all the planting on May 15th because we had a very late freeze and SNOW earlier.  We had plenty of rain earlier but not too much since mid July.  Sometimes we’ll water, especially if the plants are little but usually not.  I planted the seedlings very far apart, about five feet, so they had plenty of room and we could get down the rows with the tiller.  We also put them up in cages with stakes and ties.

I have lost track of how many tomatoes that I’ve picked but in just one day last week, I picked three five-gallon buckets and gave one away.  I have to pick about every three or four days. Our freezer is full.

Tomatoes, tops. L-R bottom: Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, San Marzano. Top: Celebrity, Better Boy, Park Whopper, Goliath, Roma.
Tomato samples, bottoms. L-R bottom: Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, San Marzano. Top: Celebrity, Better Boy, Park Whoppers, Goliath, Romas.

So let’s go down the list.

Goliath.  We’ve liked this tomato in the past and it started off well but slowed down.  I paid a lot for just one plant so will probably not plant it again next year. 

San Marzano.  This is supposedly the king of Italian tomatoes.  VERY prolific.  I can pull the tomatoes off the vine in handfuls, like grapes.  But they seem a little dry and have quite a bit of white/green core which is not tasty. 

Roma.  We’ve grown these before but they really produced this year.  Much larger than the San Marzanos which was a surprise.  Very meaty but sometimes a little black inside which is probably blossom end rot from uneven watering.

Better Boy.  Good but nothing to write home about.  Will probably pass next year.

Pink Brandywine.  These were a real surprise.  The tomatoes are huge, at least six or even seven inches across.  A beautiful pink color and low acid.  Really tasty and very meaty. One slice is enough for a sandwich. 

Red Beefsteak.  Very meaty but knobby. Difficult to use for a slicing tomato but pretty good for canning.  However, not worth the trouble even though they are so large and produce well.

Celebrity.  We’ve grown these before but for not for the past few years.  VERY good producers.  The tomatoes just keep coming.  Great for putting up or eating just plain.

Park Whopper.  We were told by a friend that this is his favorite tomato so we thought we’d give it a try.  Very consistent shape, good taste, but not very large.  And they’re petering out, even in mid-August. 

The final verdict?  We’ll definitely plant the Pink Brandywines, Romas and Celebrities next year.  But….depends upon what other options catch my attention.

Meanwhile, back to the salt mines…er ummm….the garden.  And don’t talk to me about beans and corn.  Ha!

Four categories of painting subjects

Central Park, acrylic on canvas board, 8 x 10. This was created from a sketch that I did while on a business trip to New York.

Do you ever feel like making some art but you just don’t know what to paint or draw?  For some people, this is a common frustration.  You have some free time and then what?

In my case, I keep a list.  I’m very fond of lists.  I often have many lists, here, there, everywhere.  I have a couple of lists in my studio, but I also keep an idea notebook. This is actually to just capture an idea which might flit through my mind…and then flit out.  These days I’m working on a lot of seasonal paintings for the upcoming holidays so I just brainstorm and write things down.  I also use this technique when I’m thinking about another series of paintings.

Most of my ideas fall into three or four broad categories:  still life, landscape, figurative and non-objective.

Nine Apples, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12. A variety of views of two apples. This could be a still life or an abstract painting. Not all paintings fit neatly into one category.

Still life.  This can include any single or group of objects.  Fruit, flowers, vases, skulls, musical instruments.  The list is practically infinite.  Some artists select a group of objects and then keep rearranging them and paint them for their entire lives (Morandi).  Others choose themes – types of objects like all glass vases, or natural objects, or sports equipment.  The really nice thing about still lifes is that the objects stay put (usually) and you can come back to work on your painting another day if you run out of time.  This is a really good way to develop eye-hand coordination, composition, and learning to tell a story if that is what you choose to do.  Instructors start beginning art students off with still lifes to help build these skills.

Schnellville Rd, September. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. I used to drive this road on my way home from work. I loved the hills and small farms along the way. Sure beats fighting a few million people to work every day.

Landscape.  Just about anywhere in the world can be a subject of a landscape painting.  Painting outdoors (en plein air) is both challenging and fun.  Cityscapes, your house, your dog’s house, beautiful scenery, or even things that aren’t so beautiful.  Landscape painting can be a bit more challenging as the time of day and the seasons often dictate how long or when you can paint.  Many artists make quick sketches and bring them back to use as subjects for larger or more detailed paintings.  If you are painting out doors, then you have about two or three hours before the light and shadows change.  You can always return another day to finish your work, or start another painting while you’re outside.

I loved this small marble bust of a boy with a wreath in his hair. Sketched at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. You have to get used to people leaning over your shoulder when sketching in a crowd, but really, most people are very polite and may not even notice you at all.

Figurative.  This entails studying a figure, body, part, or group.  It can even encompass pets and animals.  For many people, this is one of the most difficult categories to approach.  Why?  Because your subjects move!  Stand still, dang it!  Again, the more you do, the better you become.  Building that eye – hand coordination.  A trip to a museum helps if they will allow you to sketch their sculptures.  Those usually stay still.  Or sit at your favorite eatery, a park, library, or any public space.  Plenty of subjects there.  The trick is to be stealthy but really, not everyone minds someone sketching them. And don’t try to make a finished piece if you only have a few minutes to just jot some sketches. 

Abstract or non-objective.  This is the anything goes category.  Do you want to make circles or squiggles?  Fine.  How about several canvasses of lines or shapes?  Add some sand or affix some found objects.  Maybe your favorite music will inspire you.  Ask any four year old and they’ll teach you how.

So next time you’re searching for something to paint, pull out your notebook or 3 x 5 card and check it for ideas.  Just keep it nearby, maybe by your reading or TV chair, to jot down ideas as they come to you.  You’ll always be ready for those times when you have a few hours to get creative.  Good luck!

August Garden

A beam of early morning light catches some potted plants, partly shaded, partly sunny.

The summer is speeding past and life has been busy here in Southern Indiana.  We’ve had lots of company this summer.  I think everyone was ready to get away, out of the house, just go somewhere.  Always enjoyable to reconnect with old friends and family.  Of course, the grandkids have kept us busy, too.  We didn’t get to do nearly as many activities as we had wished but we did have some fun.

August garden. The corn in the back right is done but the tomatoes are just coming in. And the Sunflowers are towering over everything.

The past few weeks we’ve been busy with the garden.  Plenty of rain earlier in the season so the produce is coming in.  The corn is past.  Peaches and cream variety, first planting late April.  Second planting a few weeks later after the late freeze.  This is a delicious variety, full ears with no bugs or flaws.  We ate what we could fresh, then put up the rest.  After picking and husking, we ended up with four five-gallon buckets of shucked corn.  I do the picking and husking; my husband does the rest of the processing. Plenty of corn in the freezer.

The green beans (variety Jade Bush) have been very prolific.  I keep up with the picking and the beans keep coming.  Of course, I planted some more which I don’t know why. 

We planted several varieties of tomatoes this year just to remind ourselves why we like some better than others.  With the freeze that we had in early May, they’re just now coming in.  The Goliath, Celebrity, Beefsteak, and German Pink are great eating tomatoes.  Lovely on a sandwich or just with supper.  For putting up in the freezer, we have San Marzanos and Romas, and the Park Whoppers are very prolific.  We use a lot of tomatoes so these will keep us busy for the next several weeks.  The cherry tomatoes are Sweet 100 and a cute little yellow pear, both of which are very prolific.  The kids just graze on them as they pass by.

These tall, colorful sunflowers will probably end up in a painting or two. The finches are already prying the unripe seeds from the heads.

I’ve got some herbs in the food dehydrator out in the shop.  Best to remove the machine from the house so the whole place doesn’t smell like basil.  Will probably do another batch or two this season.  I’ll miss fresh herbs when they’re gone.

So, you might ask, why go to all this work just for some vegetables? It certainly doesn’t save any money when you consider all the time, labor and expense that goes into planting, picking and processing.  I guess the real reason is that we like fresh.  We know what’s in the plants and what isn’t.  We use no pesticides.  Not everything turns out perfect and beautiful.  We’re willing to live with losses.  The zucchini and squashes have been beset by squash vine borers the past few years.  I may give them a pass next year.  And as the joke around here goes, you lock your car doors in Indiana in the summer as you’re likely to find someone has filled it with zucchini. 

Lots more stuff going on around here.  The flowers are beautiful – several varieties of sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias not counting the potted plants.  I sold a lot of artwork with my Super Summer Sale last month, both online and locally.  Still need to make more room in the studio.  Still paint nearly every day.  Lots of visits to the library and arts center. And spending some evening time on the patio with a cool drink and a book. 

So how has your summer been going?  I love reading your posts and comments.  Keep cool!

What to do with a bad painting

Let’s face it, if you’ve been an artist for any length of time, you will inevitably create some bad paintings. Crap is the professional term.  (Just kidding.)  Not everything that comes off your easel, your brush, from your pencil is wonderful.  Actually, few pieces of art fit that description.

I remember when I was first getting back to my art roots after several years’ hiatus that I sat at the kitchen table one night and created a cute little flower painting. It was pink, I think.  I was so proud of that piece.  When I showed it to my husband, he said, “Oh, that’s nice, honey.”  Such a sweet supportive liar but I certainly needed the boost to my ego. 

I kept that painting for years, long after I realized what a wreck it was.  I would drag it out when teaching a class and point to it and say, “See, this is where I came from.  You can learn to paint, too.”  I have searched the studio for the piece as I would definitely show it but can’t locate it.  I’m sure that I never threw it away.

The point is, that we do the best we can with the skills we have at the time. When you know better, you do better.  I have painted plenty of really BAD paintings.  And still do, although not quite so many. 

So what do you do with a piece of art that just didn’t turn out the way that you wanted?  Here are several options.

  1. Examine the piece carefully and determine just what you are unhappy with.  The color, subject matter, composition, execution, the method of painting, etc.? 
  2. Ask yourself if there is some way to correct the mistake?  Not all mediums can be corrected but many can.
  3. Ask a friend for input.  Sometimes we know something is off but just can’t see the mistake although it may be glaring to some new eyes.
  4. Scrape off the paint or paint over the mistake.  You may even need to paint over the entire canvas.  I have done this many times and just started over. Or even explore a new idea rather the one you were pursuing.
  5. Trash it.  Burn it, destroy it.  Some people recommend that you keep your bad work to inspire you but I think it will only haunt you.  Use it as a learning experience and move on.  It can be very cathartic to throw your canvases into the burn barrel.  I’ve had very few regrets over many years.

One thing that I don’t recommend is to donate the bad artwork.  It may come back to haunt you as when someone picks it up a resale shop or flea market.  And don’t pawn it off on your friends and relatives.  They’ll be too polite to tell you and will resent moving it around from place to place over the years.

Finally, don’t stress about a bad painting.  It happens.  That’s OK.  We learn from our mistakes and just promise yourself that you’ll do better next time.  It’s only a painting, after all. 

Bread and Miriam

Bread and Miriam. My friend is delighted to display her new painting. We had such a fun morning visiting, talking about books and life.

I had the great pleasure of hand delivering my painting Bread to my friend Miriam.  She was so delighted to be able to buy this.  “Making this bread was the best experience of my time during the COVID pandemic.”  Miriam used my bread recipe for no-touch sourdough bread.  I heard back from so many friends and blog followers that they loved this recipe. 

Still need some bread?  Check out this post from last year. https://my90acres.com/2018/03/28/crusty-artisan-bread/ https://my90acres.com/2020/08/02/bread-a-new-painting/

Summer Super Sale still going on.  40 to 70% off.  Adding more every day.  Check here to see what is currently on sale.  Or contact me personally if you’re nearby and I’ll deliver. https://www.etsy.com/shop/KitMiracleArt?ref=l2-shop-info-name&section_id=1

Super Summer Sale continues!

Farmers’ Market, Saturday Morning. Original painting, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20. Kit Miracle (Frame not included.) On sale now!

My super summer sale continues. Adding new paintings every day. Extreme discounts of 40 to 70% off. Maybe your favorite painting is on sale now. Check back often. https://www.etsy.com/shop/KitMiracleArt?ref=l2-shop-info-name&section_id=22114364

Wyoming Landscape, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas. Kit Miracle, on sale now!

Independence Day

Flag Day, Milltown, Indiana Kit Miracle

July Fourth has always had a special meaning for me.  Far beyond the picnics and bands, the fireworks and family gatherings.  There is just something about the holiday here in the United States which makes me proud and excites my sensibilities.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a marching band in person or even a fireworks display, although I love both of those things.  The big booms reverberate in my chest all the way to my toes. 

And I love the family gatherings.  In our case, not quite reunions but a group of friends and relatives who show up to spend a pleasant day in the country.  This year is especially poignant since we haven’t seen many of these folks for over a year.

The kids will run around, sneak blackberries from the bushes, and whine about when they’re going to eat.  The adults will swap tales and events.  And the young men will regale everyone with some awesome fireworks.  (Fortunately, we’re not in the super dry western states where fireworks are banned these days.)

But I often reflect on the meaning of the day.  Independence Day.  The declaration of our split from our English heritage and ruler, King George.  What a chance our founding fathers took!  What moxy!  What great beginnings, too.  I wonder what they’d think of the form of government they started nearly two and a half centuries ago.  Would they be proud? Astonished?  Perplexed? Maybe all three.

I hope that you have a great day, an enjoyable day, and perhaps can reflect on the meaning of this special day here in the United States.  Be kind. Be safe.

SUPER SUMMER SALE 40-70% OFF

Initial set up in the back room.

SUPER SUMMER SALE, JULY ONLY! 40 – 70% off! Normally I have a studio sale every autumn and invite friends and locals out to my studio for some super sale items. Feed them my famous minestrone soup, desserts, wine, etc. A real party for everyone plus they can get some great bargains. Since I couldn’t do that last year, I am offering a SUPER SUMMER SALE of select items just for JULY. They will be priced at 40 to 70% off and new items will be added every day. Some items will even be reduced over the month. Check back often for new SUPER deals. As always, FREE SHIPPING.

KitMiracleArthttps://www.etsy.com/shop/KitMiracleArt?ref=l2-shop-info-name&page=4#items

Initial set up in the front room during my studio sale. This lineup changed over the weekend as paintings were sold.