Tag Archives: painting instruction

Useful art tools

Five useful art tools. 1, Composition aid. 2. Proportion scale. 3. Red gel. 4. View catcher. 5 Painting bridges.

It seems hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a catalogue or an e-mail trying to sell me art supplies and gadgets.  Oh, look, newer, better, scientific!  You’ve got to have this latest gizmo!  This will ensure your success and you’ll be the best in your field.

This is true not only for artists, but golfers, automobile enthusiasts, bikers, campers, what have you.  It seems as if the only people getting rich are the ones who keep trying to sell you things. 

But as an artist, I always like the challenge of trying to do things myself.  I guess that’s why I’m in a creative field. Here are five very simple tools that I use in my studio or outside.  Three I made myself and the other two can be purchased for less than ten dollars each.

1. The first tool is a simple composition aid made from a small 4 x 6 frame with the glass taped in.  On the back side, I’ve divided it into nine sections with a permanent marker.  I got the idea from an old drawing (Durer) of an artist who had created a standing frame divided into squares by threads.  He then divided his paper into squares, and then transferred what he saw in each square as he was viewing an object, into the respective square on his paper.  This same technique is used today for blowing up drawings. 

Woodcut of Durer’s perspective drawing tool.

In this case, I take the little frame and hold it up in front of a landscape, and draw with a felt pen on the front side.  This can be used for still lifes, figurative works, street scenes, whatever.  The trick is to keep the frame and my eye at the same level for the few minutes that I need to sketch on the glass.  Then I transfer the image to my paper or canvas.  Sometimes it’s amazing how different the actual drawing looks from the way my eye wanted to read it.  I’ve used this technique in teaching third graders up to adults.  Now, of course, you can buy a similar ready-made frame but these were not available when I first made mine.

Proportion Scale with several 20 x 16 equivalents marked by red arrows.

2. Proportion scale.  I’ve had this little plastic tool for so many years that I forgot where I bought it.  It is so easy to use for both reducing and increasing sizes proportionally.  Just line up the numbers of say, a 20 x 16 and then everything else on the scale will be proportional to that, 10 x 8, 5 x 4, 40 x 32, 80 x 64 and everything in between.  Or maybe you have a canvas of a certain size but you need to make adjustments in your drawing to fit; the proportion scale can help you do this.  Less than $10 online.

3. Red gel sheet.  I used to have access to colored gels (used for lights) when I worked in the theatre business.  These scraps are useful, particularly this red gel.  Hold it up in front of a green landscape, and it immediately grays everything out so you’re only left with values.  Commercial products are available now but you can probably get gel scraps from your local theatre or playhouse for free. See previous post here.

4.  The View Catcher has been around for a long time.  Made of grey plastic, the little slide opens the window to a variety of sizes from square to rectangles.  Marks on the plastic indicate the scale of the window (8 x 10, 11 x 14, etc.)  Less than $10.  We used to use old film slide windows but no one knows what those are anymore. 

5.  Painting bridges.  When I painted a lot of watercolor, particularly architectural images, it was helpful to have a steady hand when drawing the lines.  I made these two bridges from some wood scraps.  They kept my hand off the paper and from smearing the paint or ink.  Also, they were very helpful for guiding my pen when drawing lines.  My cost was nothing but now you can buy plastic ones for about $35.  I like free.

I hope these useful art tools will inspire you in your quest to be more creative.  And don’t be afraid to make something of your own invention, too.

Commissioned artwork

A recent commission. The customer wanted to feature a bit of the courthouse square, change the season so the weeping cherry tree was in blossom, and tidy up the flowers. It’s still in my style but I didn’t mind making these adjustments. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36.

If you have been an artist for any length of time, you have probably been asked to create something especially for someone.  Maybe a friend or a relative, someone special.  It is always difficult to decide if that is really what you want to do.  Here are some concerns for you to think about.

1.  What is a commission?  This is basically when someone asks you to create something special for them.  Frankly, commissioned artwork was the norm until a few hundred years ago.  Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.  At that time, the artist was primarily a sculptor and didn’t want to do the job but was persuaded  one way or another. That turned out well.

2.  Know your style and what you are comfortable doing.  If you have been an artist for any length of time, eventually someone will ask you to make something for them that just doesn’t fit your comfort zone.  Maybe they want you to copy another artist, or perhaps paint an abstract painting when you paint only in a realistic style.

To be totally honest, I was asked early on in my career to copy another artist’s painting and just was not comfortable with it.  Although I eventually I complied (it was a relative), it never sat well with me and I haven’t done it since.  Be true to yourself.

3.  Don’t compromise.  This hooks in with the paragraph above.  Know your style and stick with it.  If the client wants something different, you may just have to pass on the job. It always helps if you can steer them towards someone else who can help them.

4. Take notes.  I have several notebooks which I have filled over the years with notes for commissions.  Obviously, the client’s contact information, but more details about what they want.  You might even have a list of questions before you meet.  For instance, size, materials, deadlines are obvious.  Less obvious are what they want in the commission and what they don’t. 

5.  Come to an agreement.  If you really want a formal agreement, you may need to draw up a contract.  I don’t usually do this but it is a good way to cover yourself should any misunderstandings occur later.  Are they agreeing to your style?  Will you submit sketches or mockups?  When do they want the final? 

6.  Arriving at a price and getting a down payment.  You should do a little research ahead of your meeting or perhaps you will have to get back with the client later.  Remember to include your materials, time, driving time or shipping.  Condition for submitting the final product.  Don’t forget your overhead. And don’t be afraid to ask what you deserve.  Do some research for your area and medium.  What are other artists charging for similar commissions with a similar level of skills and background?

7.  Ask about a deadline.  Is the commission for a special event or doesn’t the client really care when you complete it?  I really like to get the commissions done and off my plate.  If there is a deadline, do you have time to meet it?  Is it around the holidays when everyone else is clamoring for work that must be done yesterday? 

8.  A commission is work for hire.  Get comfortable with that idea or don’t accept the commission.  Maybe you’ll be excited by the first few commissions you have, but perhaps by the 100th, you’ll be so tired of doing them.  Raise your prices!  I did house portraits for many years until I became annoyed with them interfering with the work I was really interested it.  After awhile, I kept raising my prices until I finally just had to quit doing them. 

9.  Do your best.  If you have agreed to accept a commission, then you owe it to your client to do your best.  Maybe you’re getting a little tired of work for hire, but get this one out of the way.  Then decide if you still want to keep doing them.  But remember that your reputation is on the line and a disgruntled client can be a real pain.  If you can’t make it right, maybe you can refund their money and aim them in the direction of an artist who can better suit their needs.

10.  Ask your client for input.  Most people who commission an artwork are thrilled with the prospect of having something made especially for them.  Ask for their input and a written recommendation. Develop a thick skin in case they have some criticisms.  It might prickle at first, but you can always learn something from a good critique.

To see a step-by-step demonstration of how I created this painting, go to the Artworks tab or click here.

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.

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!

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. 

How Long Does It Take?

After the Dinner Party. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30. Kit Miracle this is the final version of the painting. I’ve tweaked a few things. I didn’t like the shape of the wine bottle, added a few more highlights here and there. The whole idea with this type of impressionism is that the brush strokes are clear and bold. Your eyes will fill in the rest. I think this makes a much livelier painting than if I had meticulously smoothly brushed all of the shapes.

One of the most frequent questions that artists get is, How long did it take to paint this painting?  I’m not quite sure why people ask this question.  Are they trying to gage how much per hour that I’m charging based on the price of the painting?  Maybe.  Is it worth more if it takes more time?  I don’t know.

My flippant answer is, Thirty years and a week.  No artist reaches a professional level without a lot of work.  This is actually true for most professions.  Some people may have a little extra edge in a skill, maybe eye/hand coordination, color discernment, perfect pitch, but most people get where they are by plain hard work. I think this is true for athletes, musicians, artists, chefs, frankly nearly everyone.

I painted this painting After the Dinner Party in my Breaking Bread series pretty much in one day.  But that number is deceiving.  There was a whole lot of work required before I even began painting.

First there was the canvas prep.  I purchased the gallery-wrapped 24 x 30 canvas.  Then sanded it, applied two coats of gesso allowing for drying and sanding in between. I like a textured canvas so you will notice that in some of the photos. All of the canvasses in this series are primed with a greyish/greenish color. 

Then there was the time to sort through the hundreds (thousands) of photos that I had to select the one that I wanted to use.  Then to decide what I wanted to keep in and what to take out or move or change.  I did two small NOTAN (black and white) sketches, two large charcoal sketches, and a preliminary watercolor painting.  I noodled around with the idea of placing a bouquet of flowers in the background.  Which lead me to paint two possible floral candidates.  In the end, I did not use them as I thought they didn’t add anything to the painting set up.  Finally, I sketched the full painting on the primed canvas.

THEN….I could begin the actual painting part. 

I started in the morning with the colored outlines and painted in the larger areas first.  I pretty much worked all day until late evening.  Once I’m on a roll, I’m on a roll.

You can see the step-by-step at this link.

It takes time to achieve a certain level of skill in nearly anything.  Larry Bird shot 200 hoops before school every day and was known throughout the NBA for the hours he dedicated to conditioning.  Even after decades of success, Norman Rockwell agonized over the details of his paintings.  How many hours a day do you think Yo-Yo Ma practices his cello?  (He estimates over 10,000 hours every five years which is five hours every day.)

Next time you admire someone’s artistic skill (or other skill), keep in mind that the final product is just the tip of the iceberg of work behind the scene.  You can do it, too.  If you wish to work at it.

Six ideas for pricing your artwork

What should you charge for your artwork, your hours, days, weeks and more of effort and agony?  This is a question that every artist considers, at least at some time during their career.  This is, of course, assuming that you are willing to part with one of your creations, your children.

The first painting that I ever sold was when I was in high school.  My art teacher was preparing our pieces for an upcoming state show for students.  The actual painting was an illustration of The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. One of her friends had seen it at her home where she was matting the works.  On the recommendation of my art teacher, I was offered $50 for it which was a whole lot of babysitting money back then.

Needless to say, this set me on the path to thinking that I could actually make some money from something that I had created.  But it was a decade before I actually began to pursue my art in such light and sold it.

Pricing your artwork is a tricky proposition and one that attracts many opinions and much advice.  After thirty-five years in the business, these are some of the considerations that I use to price my paintings.

1  Materials and costs

Obviously any business person can tell you that you need to cover your costs.  This includes overhead, such as, rent, utilities, computer services and websites. Include your equipment to make your work – easels, kilns, brushes, even your vehicle if you need to transport it.  Materials like clay, canvases, paints, drawing materials count, too.

You need to eat and keep a roof over your head and pay the kids’ orthodontist’s bills so you must pay yourself a salary.  Hopefully, you can eventually do this solely with your art but you may need to take a part-time job here and there.  The whole point is that the more time you can spend creating, the more money you can make.

If you are not tracking your costs you need to start doing this right now.  You are in business so get a sales tax license and be professional.  After a year or two, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you need to bring in to cover your expenses.  Everything above that is profit.

2  Size matters

Frankly, I think the bigger the painting, the more you should charge for it.  You may have more work in a smaller painting, but the show pieces are generally the largest.  Customers expect to pay more for size. Plus, you have more materials in them.

I created a chart which quickly gives me the ballpark figure for the size of painting that I have to what I should charge for it.  I may not always stick with this, but it gives me a starting place. Price calculator

3  Talent and skill

Be realistic.  Your mother may have told you how wonderful you are and what a great artist you are.  But, take a look around.  How does your work compare to others, especially in your area and medium.  I have seen so many artists who just come on the scene and start attaching really high prices to their work, only to be disappointed when nothing sells.

Maybe you are one of the gifted people who will command high prices right from the beginning, but most artists do not.  It’s always easier to raise your prices than to fumble around and lower them.

4  Location

Where you live and where you sell your work can have a significant impact on the fees you can charge for your work.  In big cities, especially the coasts, the audience is expecting to pay more.  Galleries and museums have their own overhead to cover and, of course, higher rents in metropolitian areas.

In most rural areas, it’s difficult to command the same price structure.  Cost of living and wages are lower, thus people expect to pay less.  For the most part, not always.

Art fairs are mostly entertainment but few visitors are going to shell out thousands for a painting at most art fairs.  This also includes street artists so set your prices accordingly.

There are some caveats with this theory.  With the internet, artists can live in low rent areas but sell across the country, indeed the world.  But again, most people are not going to spend big money on something they haven’t seen in person.

5  Awards and shows

If you are an award-winning artist and have lots of credentials as well as significant shows and exhibitions, you can command higher fees.  You have proven your worth and the customer can feel comfortable that they are buying something from someone with good credentials.  Do you belong to any special art societies?  List them on your resume or website.

I was fortunate that my work was exhibited in some really good shows when I was still pretty early in my career.  I didn’t even know how good they were then but am pretty proud to list them on my website now.

6  Age

No, not your age.  The age of the pieces you still have hanging around your studio.  If it’s something fresh, maybe a new style or direction, stick with your best prices.  However, if you’ve got that box of photographs that you took twenty years ago gathering dust under your bed, do yourself a favor and price them to sell.  Yes, they really may be worth what you originally priced them at, but if you sell them, then you will at least recover some of your expenses and can use the money for more materials to create new work.

I will sometimes host a studio sale where I’ll invite local and regional friends out for a weekend.  I’ll clear my studio of most furniture, set up all the paintings that I want to move, and put some really attractive prices on them.  I usually do this in the fall before holiday shopping takes off.  And I always have some music, food and beverages for an added attraction.  I picked up this idea from a potter friend of mine who would unload his summer inventory every autumn.

I have another friend who actually rented the high school auditorium and set up thousands of paintings to move.  He made $50K that weekend!  I don’t make nearly that much but it’s good to make some extra dough around the holidays and clear some room for new work.

Occasionally I will have an online sale but I don’t want to do that too often.  My patrons should realize that I charge a reasonable price and shouldn’t wait around for the sales.

7  Bonus point.   Be fair

Make sure the prices you list on your website are the same you’re charging in a gallery or somewhere else.  The quickest way to lose a gallery is to undercut their prices.  I give my galleries some leeway to negotiate prices or to bundle sales.  Everyone comes out happy.

These are some of my suggestions for setting prices for your artwork.  You’ll probably find some helpful or maybe you’ll create your own set of rules.  Whatever you do, remember to keep creating and have fun!

Lunch at the Museum

Lunch at the Museum, Kit Miracle, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24.

This is the seventh painting in my Intimate Spaces: Breaking Bread series.  A bold, vertical portrait, this painting certainly grabs attention.  I’ve been noticing that in addition to telling a story, my portraits often include a wry sense of irony.  Yeah, I just now figured that out but looking back at much of my work, I can see what often attracted me to the scenes initially.  Maybe it’s my quirky sense of humor but hey, it’s my work and I can do what I want.

Anyway, this scene was when I took my granddaughter to the Carnegie Museum complex in Pittsburgh a few years ago.  All that walking around to see dinosaurs and artwork and more is hard work.  We stopped for lunch in the museum restaurant.

I guess that the first thing that strikes the viewer is, “What are those things coming out of her head?”  This, of course, as any photographer will tell you is a definite no no in composition.  You don’t want trees sprouting from your subject’s head.  But here with those globe-shaped lights, it works.  Some rules are made to be broken.

Lunch – detail 1. A sweet portrait but not saccharine.

There is a lot of vertical in this painting.  Not only the canvas but the stripes, the lights, the straw for the girl, the wood on the table.  The head is not quite in the center but everything leads to the face.

Lunch detail 5. Those squiggles become chairs and tables on the outdoor patio, viewed through the window of the restaurant.

Lunch detail 4. Up close, the people in the background look like beans, but again, from a distance, they come together.

I particularly like the balance between the warm and cool colors.  Even within the cool areas, you can see quite a bit of color if you look closely.  It’s about one third to two thirds ratio of warm to cool.

Lunch, detail 2. I captured this little still life even in a portrait.

Another little still life. The loosely painted silverware and napkin come together when viewed at a distance.

Some people like to see a photo realistic finish on paintings but that is not my style. (Been there, done that.)  As a contemporary impressionist, I look to convey the message with as few strokes as possible.  Looking at my paintings up close often reveals a jumble of bold brush strokes.  But stepping back about six to eight feet, it all comes together.  This is done to deliberately allow the viewer to become a participant in the experience by filling in the details with their own eyes where there may actually be none.

Canvas prep and under painting. This abstract painting doesn’t necessarily follow the composition of the painting but is designed to give a little guidance. Look closely to see my initial sketch of the subject before I begin to paint.

I also like to paint on a toned canvas, often with a rough gesso base to add texture.  One of my favorite colors is a reddish tone which adds sparkle where it peeks between the brush strokes.  This is particularly good for landscapes that have lots of green.  However, the tones on this series of paintings are more somber, greys with some splashes of color.  The subject is then drawn on top before I start painting.  When my husband saw all the prepped canvasses in my studio, he thought I was switching to abstract painting.  Well….not yet.

Travel easels for plein air painting

Homemade carry bag, the oil-acrylic easel, and the watercolor easel. The watercolor easel must be disassembled to fit into the bag. I can’t get both of the easels in the bag simultaneously, either.

Compare the oil-acrylic ease with the watercolor easel. The first is a bit taller than the latter when the legs are extended fully.

I thought I would elaborate a little more about the benefits of plein air easels and the differences.  Last week I mentioned the French easel which is made of wood.  It contains most of your equipment but it is heavy.  Also, the pochade box which is very attractive but limited to the size of canvas or panels you can use.

My main two plein air easels are both by Stanrite.  One is a watercolor easel which will tilt to many angles and has extendable legs. It has clips which will hold a board to which I’ve attached my watercolor paper.

Closeup of the watercolor easel showing the tilt adjustment.

Stanrite watercolor easel.

The other easel, and my go-to easel in the field, is for oils or acrylics.  It, too, has collapsible legs, plus it has fold-out spikes which can provide extra security by stabbing into the soil.  The easel will take canvases up to 18 x 24, maybe a little larger.  The two hooks will adjust to hold panels or canvasses of different depths, too.

The oil – acrylic easel showing the adjustable supports at the bottom and the clamp at the top. It, too, is adjustable.

Stanrite oil-acrylic easel showing the fold-out spikes to secure the legs to the ground.

Close up of the top clamp for the oil-acrylic easel

I have used these easels for years.  They each fit into a homemade carry bag (made from a pair of old blue jeans) which I can toss over a shoulder or attach to my bicycle.  Neither weighs more than a few pounds.

There are some new light weight aluminum French easels but they’re a bit pricey.  I probably didn’t pay more than $40 for either of these easels.

In the end, it’s all up to you and personal choice.  What works for me may not work for you but these are some nice options for travel easels.