Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Artist Interview: Oil Painter Gwen Bell and her Not-So-Still Life Painting

Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a fan of the still life genre.  There have been a few artists, most notably Wayne Thiebaud and Paul Cezanne, whose still life paintings managed to inspire me, but for the most part I've always found still life to be a bit, well, still. 

But Gwen Bell’s paintings refuse to sit still.  Her somewhat whimsical paintings are full of movement and tension.  Gwen's a master at capturing light and reflection and has a wonderful sense of composition.  She often presents a birdseye view of her subjects, carefully arranging groupings of fruit, dishes, or small figurines against beautifully colored cloth patterns that would do Matisse proud.  She combines an impressionistic sense of vibrant color with a realist flair for depiction.  Her diminutive pieces often hint at underlying narratives, but the real joy here is in the process of painting itself.
When Gwen received my interview questions her responses were thoughtful and candid.  I recently had the chance to view some of her paintings in person and they are truly stunning.  Her sense of space and the depth of color belies the small scale of the work.  We chatted awhile at the Dutch Art Gallery during the reception for the Spirit of Texas show.  She's a warm and open artist whose happy to share her knowledge and love of painting.

"Milk and Cherries"
Gwen Bell
Oil on Canvas Panel
10" x 10"
What’s on your easel right now?  Can you tell me about your works in progress and how they fit in with your body of work?
I'm currently working on a series for the Artists of Texas Show at the Dutch Art Gallery in Nov. I've developed a signature style over the past few years that consists of wild background fabric and a simple still life composition. I always have something solid and a ceramic cup...that the pattern can reflect into.

You've had a long and varied career in the arts.  Are there any artists or movements that influenced you or inspired your current direction?
I credit the Daily Painter movement with kick-starting my transition into small oil paintings. Before that I was a Muralist and Commercial Artist. The small format and the ability to finish a painting in one or two days was very appealing. Plus, I was new to Oil paint and the frequency of painting helped me find my legs quickly. The Artists who initially caught my attention were Carol Marine and Karin Jurick.

You work in oils on canvas panels.  What is it about oil paint on a rigid support that you find so compelling?  
I love the buttery consistency of the paint and find that their vibrancy cannot be matched in other mediums. I also like that I can paint as thick or thin as I want. I prefer the hard surface of the canvas panels rather than the bouncy stretched canvas.

"Apple Blossom"
Gwen Bell
Oil on Canvas Panel
6" x 6"
Where do you draw your ideas or subject matter from?  Do you always paint from life or do you use photographs as references?  Do you keep a sketchbook?
I usually form a composition in my head, thinking of what existing props I have and then try to recreate it in the set up. Although I have a lot going on in my work, my main inspiration is how the fabric and props will look in the reflection. I play around with the set up until I get the reflection I'm looking for. I never ever paint from memory. In fact, I'm probably too literal with what I see. Sometimes it doesn't look quite right in my mind, but I go ahead and paint what I see.
I prefer to paint from life but find that I fall back on the expediency of photos quite often. I always take a reference photo of the set up for my files and then paint it using both life and the computer monitor. I like the way the monitor helps me navigate difficult areas into 2-D but like the colors of life. Ideally, I like to keep a sketchbook going but, sadly, I've fallen behind.

Your paintings tend to be on the small side, but they are often quite complicated. What size/scale do you usually work in, and how long do you spend on a typical painting?
The majority of my paintings are either 6 x 6" or 10 x 10". However, I do any size for Commissions and would like to start doing larger ones for Gallery work. I like to work Alla Prima. I finish the 6 x 6's in the same day. The 10 x 10's take 2-3 days. Larger than that can take weeks.

Are there times when you can’t be creative or the paint just isn’t flowing?  How do you handle periods of “artist block?”
Yes...I regularly forget how to paint! It seems to come in spurts. I like the discipline of painting every day but sometimes it just doesn't work out. If I wipe out a painting 3 times then it's time to walk away. And of course, there are times when life happens - either health issues or family obligations - that make a steady painting schedule impossible.  Periodically I experience a true block which can be terrifying. I've learned to take a deep breath and consider it as a time for my creative mind to regroup. So far, the creativity always returns. Whew!
"Pass the Cherries"
Gwen Bell
Oil on Canvas Panel
10" x 10"

How do you know when a painting is finished?  Is it sometimes hard for you to decide a work is complete?
I somehow just know when it's finished. That is usually when I've finally covered all of the canvas and completed the crazy patterns. It feels like working on a Jigsaw Puzzle. When the last piece is in, it's done. I've learned the hard way that it is really easy to ruin a painting by over working it. I try to focus on values and shapes and not worry about whether it's "perfect". Right now I'm painting tighter than I'd like but the patterns pretty much dictate that.

Do you use any particular painting mediums (damar, linseed oil, liquin, alkyd gel, etc.)? How do you prepare your surface?
I always paint on Raymar Canvas Panels for the small paintings. If it is larger than 16 x 16" I move to stretched canvas. I do a heavy wash of Burnt Umber as a base for nearly everything and allow it to dry thoroughly before starting the painting. Occasionally I'll do a wash with Raw Umber/Indigo Blue. I use a combination of straight Oderless Turp and a 50/50 mixture of Turp and Lindseed Oil. After it's dry to the touch, I finish it with a light spray of Liquitex Soluvar Gloss Varnish to even out any dull areas.

"Mango Salsa"
Gwen Bell
Oil on Canvas Panel
10" x 10"

What do you think makes the difference in becoming “established” as an artist, and what advice do you have for young and emerging artists looking to develop a career?
I'm still working on becoming "established". I don't know that I'll ever feel like I'm really there. That's one of the things I love about painting...there's always something new to learn and places to grow. I am currently in 4 Galleries and have a nice following on my Blog. My advice to a new Artist would be to paint, paint, and paint some more. The more you paint, the better you'll get. If you're doing what you love, it will begin to show in your work and people will take notice. Chuck Close had a good comment about that: "All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself."

"Egg and Ginger Tea"
Gwen Bell
Oil on Canvas Panel
6" x 6"
Do you teach or lead workshops?  Do you feel that teaching helps an artist develop, and if so, in what ways?
I do not teach or lead workshops. In my opinion, it takes a special person to work with people and do it well. I have only taken one Workshop, Carol Marine's, and I do feel I benefited from it. She is a wonderful teacher! Seeing how to do a set up with proper lighting, how to search for the values, how to think about complimentary colors was all very helpful. I would love to take more Workshops from various Artists I admire. Painting with other Artists in the class was fun too. However, I am most comfortable painting alone.

What's next for you and your art?
I will most likely continue with my crazy patterns/still lives for the forseable future since I enjoy them and they sell well. But I can see myself going in a completely different direction as well. Big cats and horses really appeal to me so who knows?

Visit Gwen Bell's Studio Blog to learn more about the artist and view more of her not-so-still life paintings.  Search Paint Daily Texas for more artist interviews, art tips and techniques, and paintings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On my easel this week ...

Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
24" x 30"

Here's what's on my easel this week.  I've been working out some ideas from my recent tour of the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center near Combine (I posted a small sunrise view from Hwy 175 a few weeks ago.) I've been completely enthralled with the wetlands for awhile now and envision a large series of work based on the area.  My only complaint about the center is that you can only access the boardwalks between 9am and 4pm.  That's way too late for a sunrise and much too early for a sunset. 

To make this sunrise painting over the marsh I borrowed the sky from another location.  I use photos, sketches, and my memory as reference and often combine and edit multiple ideas together.  That's nothing new for landscape painters.  We've been selectively cropping and editing our scenes long before Photoshop became the norm.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Artist Interview: The Extraordinary World of Acrylic Painter Melinda Patrick

There’s nothing ordinary about everyday life to Melinda Patrick.  People having lunch at a sidewalk café, neighborhood houses surrounded by thick bushes and palm trees, colorful restaurants on the corner, these are commonplace scenes we all pass by daily.  For most of us they barely even register, but for Melinda they are full of intrigue. 

She is fascinated by the history of the people and places around her.  It’s not the kind of history you read about in school filled with drama and wars.  It’s the history of the ordinary lives we all experience and share every day.
Melinda took an interest in art as a young girl and was mentored by her grandfather, a painter and a photographer.  She earned her B.F.A. at the San Francisco Art Institute where she focused on oil painting.  Later years spent as a graphic designer made her a convert to acrylics.  Her paintings are full of vivid color and intense light.  After you spend some time with Melinda Patrick’s paintings you will never look at familiar day to day places the same way again.
"Lunch at the Bridgeway Cafe"
Melinda Patrick
Acrylic on Canvas
24" x 30"
What’s on your easel right now? Tell me about your works in progress and how they fit in with your body of work.
On my easel is a 30" x 40" acrylic on canvas of a cafe scene in Sausalito, CA.  I almost always paint cityscapes of places I visit. This particular painting will be part of a small body of work of cafe scenes that a local gallery expressed an interest in seeing.

What artists or art movements influenced or affected you?
I like abstracted realism so I love Edward Hopper and Jack Vetrianno. Impressionists and fauvists are also a large influence.

Do you have a preferred medium or do you work in different mediums depending on the piece?
95% of the time I work in acrylic on canvas. I have also done a bit of printmaking and gouache as well as pen and ink. For most of my life I painted in oil until about 10 years ago.  I love acrylic and how it does what I want to see. When I want to create for fun, I paint in acrylic.

Where do you draw your ideas or subject matter from? Do you ever paint on location or use photographs as references?
I take a camera with me most times I go anywhere and when I take a trip I take 1000 to 2000 photos, all with the prospect of painting from the photos. I like to paint from my own photos. Some of my paintings seem to be literal but I only use the photo to a point, then I let my imagination take over and correct what I see that I don't like. I have no interest in lugging my supplies into the great outdoors then lugging them back home again.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Not like I used to. When I was a kid I took a sketchbook everywhere and sketched people in action. I got bored with that.
Melinda Patrick
Acrylic on Canvas
30" x 40"
What size/scale do you usually work in? 
Anywhere from 5" x 7" to over 3' x 4'. All canvas sizes challenge and inspire me.

How long do you spend on a typical painting?
Anywhere from 2 hours to a few days as long as I'm working in acrylic. Oil takes much longer for me.

Are there times when you can’t be creative or the paint just isn’t flowing?  How do you handle periods of “artist block?”
Rarely.  My biggest issues are choosing which image I want to paint and what size to paint them. I don't usually get artist block.  I'm always brimming with new ideas. I keep a folder of potential paintings and projects.

How do you know when a painting is finished? 
When I've made sure I've included all the parts I want and the paint solidly covers the canvas.

Is it sometimes hard for you to decide a work is complete?
Not really. I do find myself asking if it's finished at an earlier stage than I used to and telling myself I don't need to do more because I've created the image I wanted and to do more could wreck it.

What support do you like to paint on? 
In college I built my stretcher bars, stretched the canvas and primed it. No more! I love the pre-stretched, pre-primed canvases. I have a wonderful huge easel with a hand crank for large canvases. I have some tripod easels that I don't like. If the canvas is small enough, I hold it in my hands to paint.
"Six Palms"
Melinda Patrick
Acrylic on Canvas
30" x 40"
Do you use any particular painting mediums (damar, linseed oil, liquin, alkyd gel, etc.)? When I paint with oil, I use Damar or linseed oil. I rarely use mediums with acrylic.What do you think makes the difference in becoming “established” as an artist, and what advice do you have for young and emerging artists looking to develop a career?
An established artist is one who sells and/or has a recognizable style. Things are so very different now from when I was fresh out of college. The only thing that hasn't changed is that you need to get out there and be seen.  That's much easier to accomplish in 2011.

Do you feel that teaching helps an artist develop, and if so, in what ways?
It can when you observe mistakes others make or address questions students ask that you never considered before.

What’s next?  Do you have any current or upcoming exhibitions of your work?  Any special projects you’re involved in right now?
Paint, paint, and more paint. And play with scratchboard. I recently joined Adams Galleries in Naples, Florida and I'm in the process of talking to a local gallery. I'm considering applying to a huge, local art fair for the first time.

You can learn more about Melinda Patrick and view more of her paintings at or subscribe to her blog at
Search Paint Daily Texas for more artist interviews, art tips and techniques, and paintings.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Representation with The Art Gallerist

I just found out today that I've been accepted as a new artist with The Art Gallerist. is an online juried fine art gallery headquartered in the artist community of Laguna Beach, California.  I've been researching internet art sites for a while now and for the most part have been unimpressed.  Most of the sites are little more than ecommerce store fronts that do little to promote the art itself.  A lot of them have no real selection process leading to very uneven levels of art being sold.  Many sell original fine art, reproductions, crafts, clothing, and more on the same site.  Most of the ones I looked at also have monthly fees for membership in their gallery.

The Art Gallerist operates more like a traditional gallery.  Artist submissions are juried by a selection panel.  The website itself has the look and feel of an upscale gallery and even provides for interaction between the artists and buyers.  They have a great feature called the Collectors Club for buyers and a blog with lots of great advice for buying and selling art online.  Like a traditional gallery there is no monthly fee, only a commision on sales. 

I've been very impressed with everything about The Art and look forward to a long and successful relationship.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dallas Fort Worth Art Events and Exhibitions this weekend October 28 - 30

There are always lots of great art events in the DFW region, and this weekend is no exception.  Here’s a few of my picks for a family art outing.

October 28, 6:30 – 9 pm
Reception for the Community Art Showcase at the Arlington Museum of Art
Every year artists from the DFW area are invited to exhibit their work in the Arlington Museum of Art during October and November.  It’s not a juried competition, but there’s still an enormous amount of talent on display.  The show actually opened earlier this month, but Friday night is the reception. 
October 30, 2011, 2 – 4 pm
Reception for the 11th Annual Art Connection Member’s Exhibition at the Irving Arts Center
Don’t miss the annual exhibition at the Irving Arts Center featuring members of the center’s Art Connection program.  There’s artwork in a wide variety of media from a wide range of ages.   
October 30, 11 am till its over
Art in October Closing Celebration, Dallas Arts District
The Dallas Arts District has been featuring a month of great events and activities for their Art in October celebration.  This Sunday is the closing celebration and they’re really pulling out all the stops.  The DMA has a free Carnival of Creativity Family Celebration starting at 11am, then there’s a Fall Block Party at the One Arts Plaza starting at noon.  There’s a costume contest, lots of great cuisine featured, photo shoots, mariachis, artist demonstrations, and much more.  You can view the whole schedule of events at Make plans to attend and bring the whole family!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Using Artist Registries to Market your Art

In my quest to expand my art career with the goal of being a full-time artist I’ve been leaving no stone unturned.  I have read and followed much of the advice in Alyson Stanfield’s wonderful book I’d Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion, and have recently been digesting  Jackie Battenfield’s The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.  
They’ve really opened my eyes to the many opportunities artists have to market our work in today’s world.  My website and my blog are part of my new marketing plan, along with seeking alternative exhibition opportunities.  I’m active in a few forums and post my artwork regularly on Flickr.  Of course I’m still approaching galleries and entering juried shows as well. 
Recently I’ve realized that I’ve been overlooking one of the simplest, most effective, and cheapest methods for gaining exposure for my art.  While I had certainly heard of Artist Registries before, for whatever reason it never clicked that I should be submitting my work to be included. 
Many large cities, most states, and numerous private and non-profit art organizations maintain artist registries.  An art registry is a listing of artists, often including images of their art, bios, and relevant experience, that is made available to art collectors, gallery directors, buyers, and pretty much anyone else interested in the arts.  Often public art programs (or percent for art) include an artist registry as a first step in the selection process. 
Artist registries are sometimes referred to as slide registries, an old throwback term to the days when slide carousels ruled the art world.  Today most registries are online and digital. This provides the added benefit of a back link to your art website or blog which helps increase your ranking in search results.
Registries are a low-cost, and often times free, promotional tool for artists.  Many young artists (myself included) mistakenly  think of registries as something unique to New York and other big league art cities, but artist registries are a valuable resource anywhere. 
Type in “artist registry” in your favorite flavored internet search engine and you’ll be rewarded with countless links.  Many registries have residency requirements, so adding location keywords such as a state or city name can help narrow the results.  
Using this simple process I’ve identified a dozen or so registries, several specific to my home state of Texas along with a few national databases, which seem like a good fit for my work. 
While the submission process for some registries can be lengthy, the potential rewards for promoting your art are enormous.  With the whole world now connected by the web, there’s simply no excuse for not taking advantage of artist registries.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Artist Interview with modern day impressionist Sheri Jones

"Collector or Dealer"
Sheri Jones
Oil on Canvas
18" x 36"

When I first saw Sheri Jones work it made me think of my brother.  Not something that artwork normally does for me, but you see, my brother Vince is a car guy.  He’s been a mechanic all his life and now works as an engineer.  In his spare time he rebuilds and restores vintage cars, trucks, motorcycles, pretty much anything with a motor and wheels.  I think every family probably has at least one car nut.  Sheri Jones became inspired when she and her husband starting shopping for an old truck for him to restore.
Sheri has been painting for more than 25 years.  She considers herself an impressionist and strives to create an accurate but painterly look.  She paints from life, both outdoors in true plein air fashion, and in her studio from a still life.   Whether with a brush or a palette knife her paint handling is bold and loose.  With vibrant colors and thickly textured impastos Sherri brings new life and vitality to these old warriors of the road.
When Sheri received my interview questions she replied with enthusiasm and graciously shared her time and knowledge.  Her responses were thoughtful and revealed an artist constantly striving to improve her craft.

What’s on your easel right now?  Can you tell me about your works in progress and how they fit in with your body of work?
I am currently working on a 62 Volkswagen Beetle. It is bright turquoise and a nice reminder of times gone by.  I have been painting a series of vintage trucks. The old cars are a natural transition. The old truck fascination began when we started shopping for an old truck for my husband to restore. We started seeing them everywhere. I also wanted to paint these with more ease when painting plein air. He is currently restoring a 52 Chevy truck we bought.  I am inspired by the works of California artist, Timothy Horn when it comes to vintage vehicles.

"Blue Bug (62 Volkswagen)"
Sheri Jones
Oil on Canvas
11" x 14"

What artists or art movements influenced or affected you?
One of the most influential movements has been plein air painting. It changed my approach and improved my process. It forces me to paint fast and make quick decisions.
Another group that influenced me has been the Daily Painters. I found my kindred spirits with this group. Painting often and daily gives me the freedom to explore a variety of subjects.

Do you have a preferred medium (oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, etc.) or do you work in different mediums depending on the piece?  Why?
I am currently working with oil paints. I love their durability and creamy quality. I often apply the paint with a palette knife in an impasto manner. I love color and texture and I am able to achieve this with oil paints.

Where do you draw your ideas or subject matter from?  Do you ever paint on location or use photographs as references, or do you paint from memory?  Do you keep a sketchbook?
Inspiration for my paintings comes from my everyday environment. I like to paint things that I am familiar with and that surround me. I love painting plein air and get out as often as my schedule allows. This is usually once a week. Call me crazy, but I love to catch a sunrise on one of the back roads near my home in Granbury, Texas. I love to paint from life and often set up a still life in the studio, but I also paint from photos.  I keep a busy schedule and working from photos are sometimes my best options.  I do keep a sketch book in my car and carry a camera with me always.  The iPhone makes this possible and I use this tool often.   

"Old Blue"
Sheri Jones
Oil on Canvas
14" x 11"

What size/scale do you usually work in?  How long do you spend on a typical painting?
When painting from life I usually work small and use 8x10, 9x12 or 11x14. I often use the smaller studies for larger paintings. It is a great way to work out color use and design.
I paint the smaller paintings in less than 2 hours. My studio pieces are usually 11x14, 16x20, 22x28, or 30x40. I take more time with these and can spend from 8 hours to weeks to finish one. I typically paint in stages. My first stage is to get the canvas covered and set it aside to dry. I come back to it with fresh eyes and a new approach. I can often see things that need to be corrected after a little distance from the process.

Are there times when you can’t be creative or the paint just isn’t flowing?  How do you handle periods of “artist block?”
In the past, when facing an artist block I have studied a new medium.  I worked with molten glass, making lamp work beads.  The process changed my approach to painting. It taught me about color, form and design. It made my work more abstract and free.
If that doesn’t work I simply go to my studio. I have projects in stages all over the studio. I work full time and my time in the studio is limited. I make the most of my free time and seem to be more inspired. If I have too much time on my hands I don’t seem as productive.

How do you know when a painting is finished?  Is it sometimes hard for you to decide a work is complete?
I will set a painting up in my living room and study it from different angles. Quick glances and time are often the best tests. I also frame them and leave them in view. This is another good test for checking for errors and corrections. I have several artist friends and my husband that will critique a work and give honest suggestions.  I keep correcting and improving them until they stop bothering me. 

"52 GMC Truck"
Sheri Jones
Oil on Canvas
20" x 24"

What support do you like to paint on?  Do you prepare and prime your own canvas or panels?  Do you use any particular painting mediums (damar, linseed oil, liquin, alkyd gel, etc.)?
I like the Raymar cotton canvas panels when painting plein air. My larger pieces are usually on stretched canvas.  I also work on wood panels I get at the hardware store. I use a latex paint for a base, sanding between layers.  The only medium I use is odorless Mineral Spirits. I use this and a little paint to put my first layer on. I like a warmly toned canvas to begin.

What do you think makes the difference in becoming “established” as an artist, and what advice do you have for young and emerging artists looking to develop a career?
Becoming an established artist takes good old fashion brush mileage. Paint as often as possible and have many, many starts. Draw, paint or do something art related every day.

Do you teach or lead workshops?  Do you feel that teaching helps an artist develop, and if so, in what ways?
I am not currently teaching, but would be open to teaching workshops.   I have taught one day workshops for adults and taught children for over six years.  I love being in the class room and know being around other artist is very inspiring.  You learn what you know by repeating and teaching others.

"Faded Pink"
Sheri Jones
Oil on Canvas
8" x 10"

What’s next?  Do you have any current or upcoming exhibitions of your work?  Any special projects you’re involved in right now?
I recently had work accepted in U-Gallery, an on-line art gallery. I have had 2 solo shows and a two man show this year and participated in many group shows.  I have work that was juried into the Lake Granbury Art Association and the Navarro Council of Arts in Corsicana, Texas. Also The Artist of Texas is having a juried show at the Dutch Art Gallery in Dallas, Texas. It will hang during the month of November and December. The reception is scheduled for Saturday, November 6th. I will also have my work on display at The Visitors Center in Granbury during the month of November.  I will continue to paint daily and post as often as possible.

Please visit or for more paintings from Sheri Jones including her wonderful landscapes, still lifes, and more vintage automobiles.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review of Illusions Floater Frames from Jerry's Artarama

First, let me just say that I’m not really a frame guy.  I’ve never really cared for framing canvas, preferring instead to paint the edges on gallery wrapped canvas.  I’ve always felt like most frames draw too much attention to themselves.  Recently though I’ve been using up a stock pile of 3/4” deep canvases, so when three of my current paintings were accepted into the Artists of Texas show at the Dutch Art Gallery in Dallas I found myself in need of a few frames.  I looked into different readymade frames and custom moldings at local frame shops but didn’t really find anything I liked within my budget. Then I stumbled upon Illusions Floater Frames online at Jerry’s Artarama. 
Floater frames were popular in the 1970’s and seem to be making a comeback.  I found several frame companies that offered different versions of floaters, although most only seemed to come sized for 1 ½” deep canvas.  The Illusions frames come in ¾” and 1 ½” depths and are available in six different finishes.  Unlike most frames there is no lip that hangs over the front of the painting.  Instead there’s a small facing that’s offset about a ¼” from the canvas allowing the edges to be seen.  The inside is finished in black providing the “floating” affect.  They’ve received several good reviews on the Artarama site so I thought I’d give them a try.
This was my first experience with Jerry’s.  They have a four frame minimum order, but shipping was free with my order and arrived quickly.  I ordered five frames in different sizes, all in the natural finish.  When my order arrived I was initially a bit disappointed.  First off, the natural finish is actually unfinished, bare wood.  The first frames I opened were the 12” x 16” and 16” x 20” sizes and their fit was a bit uneven.  A couple of the corners had noticeable gaps.  My first instinct was to return the frames, but I decided to take a chance and open the larger ones.  To my surprise they were very well constructed with corners that fit tight.  I placed a couple of different paintings in the frames and really liked the look so I thought I’d see if I could make them work. 
Since the natural finish was actually bare wood, I first applied two coats of Tung Oil to seal and protect the wood and give it a bit more polished appearance.  There were also a couple of spots on the black paint on the inside that needed to be touched up.  The frames are supplied with all of the mounting hardware required and made for a pretty easy assembly.  I kind of wish they’d bypassed the clips and drilled holes for screws instead, but all in all the frames were easy to put together.  There’s also a video on Jerry’s Artarama showing how to attach the canvas to the frame using the supplied clips.   
The frames have an understated, unobtrusive look that really lets the painting speak for itself while providing a professional, finished appearance.  The problems I encountered seem to be primarily due to the natural finish.  For artists who prefer minimal framing, Illusions Floater Frames are a good choice, provided you’re willing to put in a little effort to touch up minor flaws.  They are inexpensive, lightweight, and if they’d just improve on the quality control a little I think they’re a perfect choice for a gallery setting.
You can check them out for yourself at Jerry's Artarama.
Professional, clean appearance
Unobtrusive, let’s artwork speak for itself
Selection of six different finishes (black, white, natural, black w/ gold trim, black w/ silver trim, walnut w/gold trim)

Natural is actually unfinished, bare wood.  I sanded some spots lightly and applied two coats of Tung Oil.
Quality control is inconsistent.  Larger frames (18 x 24, 24 x 30, and 24 x 36) arrived with good fit and finish and clean corners while smaller frames (12 x 16 and 16 x 20) had gaps on corners.
Paint needed touch ups in places.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Artist Interview with Oil Painter Larry Leach (Part II)

Larry Leach has been painting in oils since the mid 1960's and has taught painting and drawing for LSU in Louisiana and Lamar University in Texas. His artwork is in numerous museum and corporate collections, and he has had solo shows in galleries and museums throughout Texas, Florida, and Georgia.  He is currently an outreach artist for ColArt America. For more than thirty years his work has been concerned with the rendering of the landscape. This is Part II of my interview with Larry Leach.  If you missed Part I of the interview you can read it here.
"Blue Lagoon"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
52" x 64"
You've been primarily an oil painter throughout your career, although I know you painted in acrylics early on.  What is it about oil paint as a medium that attracts you?
I like oils for several reasons.  The first and probably main one is because of the addition/subtraction process in which I enjoy working.  I like to add color as an under-painting and continually scrape on it, add liquid glazes and scrape some of that away in a somewhat anal manner.  I continue this process until I like the kind of patina look with some areas that are thicker with thinner areas showing through.  I sometimes get to a point where I do a glaze of, for instance, "Indian Yellow" that becomes a highly transparent tonal unifier, then remove part of that before I start my process again.
Constable and Turner were the first to do this when Indian Yellow came out in the early 19th century.   Constable introduced the method to Delacroix, who showed Corot who then influenced Inness with his tonalism.  Needless to say, with acrylics, this process is almost impossible, as is the traditional painting method of wet on wet which is the stable of oil paint and easel painting.  Acrylic with its' quick drying time is essentially an addition/ addition process and is at its' best for masking off color, pouring methods, or collage, air brush, etc.  Unfortunately most people who use acrylic use it in a traditional wet on wet technique and that is a technical struggle for most artists.
The second reason I like oil paint is the choice of colors.  Acrylic has Titanium White, but no Cremnitz or Flake white which is a warm, opaque mixing white.  When you look at those beautiful Inness sunsets (or those of any painter before 1924 when Titanium White hit the market) he used a lead carbonate white (Cremnitz White).  So did Monet,  Cézanne, Renoir and all the other great colorists before 1924.  A lot of painters (Lucien Freud, Picasso, Balthus, Bacon), even though they had access to Titanium White, never used it because they didn't like its' strong tinting power.  It has no color temperature.  Therefore it tends to deaden flesh tones, for example.  Acrylic has Zinc White which is a transparent cold mixing color and now a few companies (Winsor/Newton) offer a mixing white in acrylic.  This is Titanium that is chemically milled in an attempt to copy the positive attributes of Flake White.  Zinc white is good but does not have the reflective brilliance of Flake.  Winsor/Newton calls it Flake White Hue in Oils.
Lastly, I just like the finished surface of oils in comparison to acrylics.  Our Beaumont friend John Alexander used to say acrylic is like eating at McDonald's and oil is eating the food of a French Chef.

"Sea Oats VI"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
72" x 96"
Many of your paintings are quite large and feature extensive brushwork and impastos.  How long do you spend on a typical painting?
This is variable with what else I have going on.  Right now, for example, I'm going through one of my worst painting draughts because I have been building a woodshop that houses my table saw, miter saw and such with room enough to house my tractor and yard tools, compressor,etc.  This is a 40x40' pole barn that  I have enjoyed building,  but it obviously takes away painting time.  My next project is a deck off of Sheila's side of the studio.  Then of course, we are both gardeners.
I am also busy as a ColArt America outreach artist doing workshops.  I enjoy doing them and it is lucrative but is time consuming also.  I leave Tuesday to do a three day painting workshop for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  This fall, I have already done workshops for the painting departments at the University of Georgia in Athens, the University of Florida, and SCAD of Savannah.
I paint best when I can have uninterrupted time.  When I can do this the process flows, large paintings can happen very quickly, and the work is usually better.  I usually have solo museum shows about every three years in which I try to have fairly new work.  The sales usually come as offshoots of this work that go out to various galleries in several states.  Before a show, I'm always very busy and I tend to be at my best.  I also usually have four or five commissions a year (some big, some small) and I tend to knock those out very quickly.  A 6’ x 8' painting usually takes about two weeks, but then I like to keep it in the studio for a few days to look at it as I usually see something I want to work on.
Are there times when you can't be creative or the paint just isn't flowing?  How do you handle periods of artist block?
If other artists read my answer here, I'm sure they may want to differ, but I don't really believe in the idea of artist block.  I saw the Pollock retrospective a few years ago at MOMA.  It was a great show in that they showed his very early work down to his last.  The best and greatest was the "Spring" series (1948-51)  For this period, they reconstructed the barn he painted in down to the music he listened to (Benny Goodman).  You could really feel the energy and see it in his work.  The next area covered his last works which were few and sad and truly looked like it was from a different artist.  So what happened?  The writers of the time told of him complaining of artists' block.  This may be one of the most famous examples of artists' or writers block.  From my readings of history and of being an active painter since the mid-sixties, I personally feel that in Pollock’s case he succumbed to the depression that he had throughout much of his life.  With the tragic addition of extreme alcoholism  he simply didn't go to his studio and stay involved with his materials.
I believe that so-called artists' block is from a lack of discipline which can reduce us to our lower natures.  Woody Allen felt that good work and creativity begins and ends with "showing up".  Various artists "show up” in various ways.  For the last 40 years of his life Wayne Thiebeaux would meet his friends every morning for coffee at someone’s studio, and as a group hire a nude model and draw for an hour or so.  They would then go to their own studios and do their work.  A lot of artists like the energy of the city and having a lot of other artists around for self-support.   Because of the way I was raised I need and am inspired by being alone in my studio. 
The only time I have had a problem with creativity was when I went through the devastation of a divorce from my first wife and my so-called train got off track for a while.  If you haven't already, read the biography of the great Winston Churchill who was a very regular oil painter even throughout the war.  Someone asked him how in the world he got in the "mood" to paint with all his other important considerations.  He basically replied that if he waited to get in the mood, he probably wouldn't do anything other than smoke his cigar and drink a bit of whiskey.
"August Afternoon"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 68"

How do you know when a painting is finished?  Is it sometimes hard for you to decide a work is complete?
I try to listen to my emotive self.  When in doubt I try to walk off and work in my garden or something.  I don't have a formula other than that I usually know when I'm pleased.  This has become much easier as I age.
When you taught at Lamar you were stretching your own canvas and preparing your own mediums.  Do you still complete those steps yourself, or have your methods changed?
I still mostly construct my own stretcher strips (1x4" with 3/4" quarter round ) and always stretch and gesso my own canvas.  Before I left Lamar, I started hiring a student to cut and put together my stretcher strips.  When I was in Melbourne Fl. for 6 years I successfully hired a retired industrial arts teacher to construct the frames, but for the last ten years I can't find anyone anal enough for perfection to do it.  I tried with a couple of people, but the money was wasted for their time and also for my materials.  We live near Ga. Southern University which has an MFA program, so I might find someone there, but I can't bear to even try to find someone to do the stretching.  I'm extremely critical of the perfection there.  If you remember, I always ordered my canvas from New York Central Supply and still do.  I stopped using rabbit skin glue before I left Beaumont as I found out on my own in that old humid studio that it very much attracted moisture.  I use a very high quality acrylic gesso from Winsor/Newton and sometimes I cover that with an Alkyd Oil Gesso, but mostly I don't.
When I was in Beaumont, I made my own Damar varnish from the crystals and then used turpentine and refined linseed oil to make my medium.  I stopped doing this about 15 years ago.  I know you're aware about my connection to Winsor/Newton.  I'm one of seven outreach artists for them in North America.  It's a contract each year in that they hire me to visit university painting departments (in my case the southeast U.S., and the reason that I was in Dallas last spring) to do demo/lectures concerning the technical aspects of painting.  Through this connection, I have received training each summer for the last 14 years.  These sessions have been held in England, New York, Washington D.C., Etc.  Through this, I have become familiar with the chemistry of these materials far more than an artist probably needs.  I have been inside the Tate, the National Gallery and several other major museums where the cleaning and repair of art work is done. The reason that I stopped using the old recipe of 1/3 portions each of Damar Varnish, Turpentine and Refined linseed oil that was used through the centuries is that the artists that employed this have all had problems with their paintings being cleaned.  Artists using a lamination of this glaze in their process (Cézanne) have color come off when the old varnish is removed.  This is because of the drying contradiction inherent with laminating the Damar Varnish.  It causes the turpentine to evaporate much slower and is trapped amongst the linseed oil which dries through oxidation.  The layers cannot sufficiently dry.  A Cézanne painting is therefore technically unhealthy.

I have since used Winsor/Newton Painting Medium which gives the same effect without the drying contradiction. This is thinned stand oil.

"Bull Creek Series III"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 84"
You've had numerous exhibitions in both gallery and museum settings, and have received some very important public commissions as well.  What do you think made the difference in becoming established as an artist, and what advice do you have for young and emerging artists looking to develop a career.
In my world, I'm still trying to make it.  With my rating system concerning artists, the top are the “Blue Chippers.”  They’re the ones that we talk about in Art History class and whose works are in the major museums around the world.  Collectors scramble for their works worldwide.  The next group are the “Red Chippers” which I'm a part of.  We make a living and are full time artists.  Some of us in a given year might rival the “Blue Chippers” for sales and income but there is no worldwide connection and the important museums are very few.  Our collections in museums tend to be mid-size, not MOMA.  As a group we have to work much harder and usually have several galleries because the Marlborough in NY is interested in the” Blue Chippers,” not us.  We tend to make a killing though with art in public places.  Most of these projects are for less than $200,000 and the “Blue Chippers” don't want to bother for such a pittance.
My only advice for any artist no matter their particular level is to stay within themselves and do what interests them.  Whatever that may be, do a lot of it and a certain passionate depth will develop sooner or later.  When and only when this depth develops, it may be time to exhibit the work and hopefully receive criticism that they respect.  Most of us go to school in this developmental stage and then hopefully we continue development throughout our career.  Sales of art is fickle and in this economy very hard for the entry level professional artist.  Most of us (like you) at some time in their career develop their connections to the art world of sales while under the safe umbrella of having a teacher’s salary.  Some leave teaching when they feel the umbrella is no longer needed. 
You taught for many years and continue to give workshops.  Do you feel that teaching has helped you as an artist, and if so, in what ways?
I can give you several quotes and ideas about this from my old professor and my contradictory feelings, but as a long-time teacher yourself, I would be interested in your personal answer to this.  My old painting professor who is now passed away, told me when I started teaching at LSU: "Spending your time as a teacher helps your development in only becoming a better teacher, not necessarily as an artist."  I have mostly felt that with my teaching days, but here and there I would have an energetic, curious and talented student like you and I would feel personally enriched and energized.
What’s next for Larry Leach?
I do not plan on anything different.  My path is clear and happy for me.  I have ideas for my next group of paintings, but they will certainly be a continuation.  I am connected with several galleries and the sales and commissions come and go.  Over the years they have kept me with enough work to survive, and at other times the commissions have been an overload and I had trouble keeping certain galleries with enough work.  In my case, this is the lot of the artist.

View more paintings by Larry Leach and learn more about his exhibitions and workshops at

"Farm Road"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 68"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Artist Interview with Oil Painter Larry Leach (Part I of a Two Part Series)

"Mama's Sunrise"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 68"
When I decided to expand my blog to include interviews with other Texas artists, Larry Leach immediately came to mind.  Though Larry resides in Georgia now, I met him while I was a student at Lamar University in Beaumont.  I had drawn my whole life but never really studied art formally.  At that time I was undecided about my path in life.  As a child I had dreamed of being an artist, but the “real world" seemed to believe that art isn’t a job.  After a couple of years spent bouncing around different majors, I finally enrolled in a drawing class.  I had never drawn with charcoal, and I didn’t know anything about Larry at the time, but I immediately felt at home in his class.  He has a genuine and easy going demeanor and a true passion for art that’s infectious.  He saw my potential and soon became my first real mentor.  When I visited his studio in downtown Beaumont it gave me a glimpse of what it was like to be a working artist.  When I saw his paintings at the Harris Gallery in Houston and later in his one man show at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas I realized that art can be a career.  When I expressed my doubts about earning a living to Larry, he told me “First you get good at something you love, and then you figure out how to make money doing it.” Larry Leach has managed to do both.

For the past 30 years or more, Larry Leach has painted the landscape.  His is a world mostly devoid of people, a world in which light and color interweave with memory to create their own history.  He is widely praised for his ability to fuse mark making and depiction.  His works are as much about the act of painting as they are about the landscape. 
Paintings by Leach hang in several museum and corporate collections including the Brevard Museum of Art, the Alexandria Museum of Art, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, LSU, the Moody Center, and the Kaiser Aluminum Corporation.  He has also received several public commissions from the Florida Art in Public Buildings program.  He has had numerous one person exhibits throughout Texas, Florida, and Georgia, and is currently an outreach artist for ColArt America.
When I approached Larry about the interview he responded with enthusiasm.  As always he was extremely generous with his knowledge and his time.  His responses were so thoughtful and informative I’ve decided to break the interview into two parts rather than cut it short.  Here’s part I of the interview, and Part II will be posted on Friday, October 14, 2011.
"Late Afternoon Light"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 84"
What's on your easel right now?
I'm working on two paintings right now and both are near completion.  The larger one is 54" x 68" and as usual, I hang it on my studio wall while I'm working.  I like the white wall that it's resting on.  It’s the same as the gallery or museum wall that it will be shown to the public with.  The smaller work is on one of my easels and is about 20" x 30."  Both paintings are part of a continued theme that I started in the early 1990's when I was in Texas: the image of the untainted or primeval landscape with the search for early morning or late afternoon light which drags across its surface. 
Where do you draw your ideas or subject matter from?  I know you have worked quite a bit from memory.  Do you ever paint on location or use photographs as references? Do you keep a sketchbook?
My ideas come from my collective past which includes being raised on a rural and isolated Louisiana farm.  My favorite pastime was roaming the woods with my dog and a sketch book.  This still is my base for conceptual growth, aloneness with nature, a love for the craft of my materials and a respected consideration of the history of art. After this my ideas come from working.  One work begets another.
I paint from memory, watercolor sketches and in a lot of cases from invention.  I don't rely on photographs.  The act of painting is important to me and therefore my painting at its' best gets the feel of a particular motif but resides somewhere between abstraction and realism.
I always loved your studio set up in an old bar in Beaumont.  What’s your current studio space and setup like?
Five years ago, my wife Sheila and I built our home/studio in rural Georgia, not far from Savannah in the middle of 21 acres.  The structure including a loft has about 5000 square feet which is divided between the living and studio area.  The studio area has about 2500 square feet.  The center of the room has a height of 16' which slopes to each side down to twelve feet.  Sheila and I share the working space.  So my painting wall that the 54" x 68" work is on is 16' high and 16' wide that drops from the center of the room.  Though the 54" x 68" work may seem to be getting on a large scale, it seems small on this wall which is designed for me to be able to work much larger if I need to.  I have palettes with rollers that can shift around where I need them.

"Sampson's Island"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
54" x 68"

We used to talk about George Inness and Cezanne and their influence on your work.  Can you talk a little about the artists and movements that particularly affected you?
Technically, I probably have been influenced by Cézanne more than anyone.  Specifically his working method of building the surface through a series of laminated glazes with a constant addition/subtraction process.  He used only a one size round bristle brush, whereas I combine the palette knife with #8 and #10 Flat hog bristle brushes.  I employ his use of warm/cool colors to attain weight and depth and like him do not rely on traditional Chiaroscuro.  The effect is that depth in my paintings lies somewhere between the "window" (illusion of depth into infinity) and the "wall" (flatness). I do employ more linear perspective than him.  Like Cezanne, I want the image to be parallel to nature and not a copy.  Cézanne also did watercolors on site and sometimes used them as guides in the studio.
The viewer of my work will probably see a closer connection to Inness.  This is because of similar themes (early morning and late afternoon dragging light).  A year or so before his death, he worked for several months in Tarpon Springs, Florida.  This whole area of West Florida is fairly flat.  Inness and later I and other artists have enjoyed the late afternoon dragging of light and the shadows off the live oaks which are native to the area.  Inness was a leading artist connected to the Hudson River School.  He was specifically influenced by Camille Corot.  Inness would impart Corot’s Barbizon Romanticism to his own work and like Corot, was primarily a studio painter.  Corot called his work "souvenirs" (memories of the landscape.)  He would also use watercolor to help him with his imagery, although one of his best friends did photos of most of the sites where Corot painted.  The main thing Inness got from Corot was the overall unified tone of the painting.  Therefore Inness and the third generation Hudson River school were known as "tonalists".  If you look at Corot and the other Barbizon Artists, you will always see a cow, a person behind a tree, ducks, etc.  Inness continues this with his work.  I depart from this poetic sweetness as you will never see a duck, human or anything but the pure landscape in my work.
Others who have a considerable voice in my work have been Monet with his series of paintings (28 haystacks) where the subject matter really becomes the light and his interpretation through his color and process. Also with his later large works, there is a feeling of entering into an environment and there is no focal point, no beginning or end.  Like Pollock’s' work, the drawing becomes inseparable from painting.  I abandoned the focal point in the middle 1990's and my whole body of work since has become somewhat of a series and part of an environment. 

"Island Counterpoint"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
20" x 20" each

In 1995 you had your first museum exhibition in Beaumont, TX at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.  I was struck by “Padre Island Counterpoint”, your grouping of forty 20” x 20” paintings of the Gulf Coast.  What led you to explore the idea of repetition in your landscapes?
These were meant to be seen collectively as one work, but also could be seen autonomously.   This idea was from others of course.  Jennifer Bartlett had just done her series of 250 enameled 12" metal plates in NY that were exhibited as one piece.  Some of the minimalists (Judd) also used this idea of repetition.  My friend Salvatore Peccarro from San Francisco showed me his 12" photo/silkscreened panels from a photo of the sky taken each day of 1992.  There was the obvious passage of time within this huge overall work. 
Since my initial series with 20" x20", I have produced over 900 20" x 20" paintings and have exhibited and sold as many as 60 at one time that were always placed 4" apart.  These are all over the U.S. and a few places overseas.  I have since used the idea on other scales (20" x 92" in repetition, etc.)  Besides other artists concerned with repetition, probably the main continuing influence is from Beethoven and his use of what he calls "counterpoint".  He would have a 28 minute composition with autonomous elements within that would lend themselves to the overall musical score.  Therefore, I usually name my repetitive groupings "Island Counterpoint" or something similar and the individual painting will be #1, #2, etc. from that particular counterpoint grouping. 
Paul Brach, who lives in New York and writes for Art in America, said: " The "Counterpoint" groupings is a lyrical exploration of the light over the ocean or an open expanse of beach: hung in series, the eye as it moves up, down, over and back has a sense of Proust's ephemeral time.  Seen as a totality the work has an ebb and flow like the ocean and time itself". 
"Beach Grass Series I and II"
Larry Leach
Oil on Canvas
96" x 30" each
Part II of my interview with oil painter Larry Leach.