A Long Day’s Journey into Art

This is about the reasoning behind my newest work. It’s long and detailed but I feel it’s worth the read as it offers insights other artists might find helpful. Here goes.

I have always been artistically inclined. When I was a child, I played music and did painting on ceramics (painting things like beer steins.) I have always had a fascination with architecture but also have varied interests. I’m not the type of artist who fixates on one subject, rather I tend to dabble a bit, moving to whatever strikes my fancy the next.

When I moved to Austin, I wanted an excuse to get outside more so I took up photography. I kind of found it by accident. I liked it very much. I took to it. I was good at it or so I thought. I always had a day job and never really thought of photography as a career but I felt a strong pull, a very strong pull. I started doing photography, started doing shows, sold a few pieces here and there. Nothing earth shattering but I made progress, I think improving as I went along. As a photographer, I tend to approach my work more like a visual artist and less like a photographer, less like a “straight” photographer. Basically, I paint with my camera, favoring a more artistic approach. I always loved art and wanted to be a painter when I was younger, even dabbling in that at times. Photography allowed me to paint like that, to make compositions that I saw in my mind, only faster and more easily. It allowed me to get my ideas out quicker and bring them to life faster. I liked it, I’ve always liked that about it too.

At some point as an artist, I want my work to have more meaning. I want it to be seen, yes, I’d even maybe like to make more of a living off of it. Maybe someday, maybe just sell a few pieces. I get frustrated here as I find it difficult to sell a lot of work, though my work is appreciated. At least, I think it is. So, I started looking for ways to make my work more unique, to push it more, to push myself to do work that’s more personal, more evolved, in the hopes I might end up making better work or work that I liked more than my earlier work. It’s an evolution of sorts, a growing process, and I want to keep moving forward here, to constantly get better and push myself to do better work.

I tried encaustics. At first I was going to do a series of encaustics with photos melted into the wax. I started down that path. It was OK, but then working with encaustics made me realize I really just liked the paint, I didn’t really care for the photography part of it. I wanted to paint with the wax and only paint with it. Encaustics are a great way to make boldly colored abstract pieces. I still love them for that, so I did them for a while. I started to have some success here too. At one point, I even had a gallery in New York City talking with me about showing my work there. (I turned it down because I felt I was not ready yet as a painter.)

The problem with abstract work is that, well, people tend to like really BIG abstract work. There just really isn’t a market for 10 inch by 10 inch little mini abstract pieces. So, I had this idea of doing work a bit larger, say 18×24, and doing it with the encaustics around a theme. I actually did it. I started down the path of doing this series, called “Earthen/Dusk” which were abstract encaustic pieces inspired by the sunsets around Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a nice series of paintings and it started to come together but there were problems. For starters, recall I said people like big abstract work. Well, 18×24 inch is kind of big, but it’s not that big. To really have success at this, why, I’d have to be able to go larger, like 4 ft by 4 ft or some such thing. Encaustics are done on wooden panels, not usually canvas, and I could barely keep up with storing in my house all of these panels. Then, what would happen if, say, somebody wanted a commission piece? How would I even paint some big, gigantic 9 foot masterpiece? The panels are heavy with all of the wax on them. Shipping these panels is hard and expensive too so how to do shows? Photography always allowed me to do shows. I’ve probably done like 200 gallery shows. Encaustics can be fragile too-the corners and such can get dinged up easily, plus they require a lot of careful packing and shipping. All things with which I did not want to deal. But, I always liked the way the paintings look, I still do. I love encaustics.

When I was doing encaustics, I realized I wanted to be able to draw better, to be a better painter, I felt it would help me, so I took a couple of drawing classes. I took classes in charcoal and pastels. I had seen pastels before but never really connected but I started doing pastels for a time as well. I like pastels but they too are fragile. You have to frame them behind glass which makes shipping them quite difficult. They can be messy but I liked them. I like the colors and the way they look, even if I don’t feel quite like I’ve mastered them. They are also works on paper typically, so a bit easier to store in the home studio. You can stack them, unlike the wooden panels used for the paintings. I did some pastels for a while but I lost interest in these a bit too, probably because they are too difficult to ship. I hit a busy spell in my day job and decided it was too time consuming to do the pastels, the encaustics, and I missed photography. I decided I would go back into photography and just do that since it was something I could always do while I was working.

Over the years, I had somehow mastered the art of working a day job and doing photography on the side. The day job paid the bills and the photography was fun and rewarding, even if it meant I was basically working two jobs all of the time. I struggled but continued. At one point, I reached a point where I felt like I was at a breaking point. I had managed to convince myself I had to make a go of it as a photographer, to try to make a living at it, to drop the day job. I took steps down this path. I paid off debt to better free myself financially, upgraded my camera gear, started teaching photography classes a bit, I started to look, take a long hard look at the websites, I call them hovels sometimes, where I was showcasing my work. I tried to get into some different, more professional (or so I thought) websites, with the hope my work might sell a bit if placed in front of the right eyes. Some of my attempts panned out, some didn’t. I don’t feel bitter, perhaps I’m just a wee bit wiser now for this effort, so I can chalk this up to experience and sort of move on now.

As part of this exploration, I came to the realization that a lot of people don’t buy photography as fine art. I’ve lamented this here before but, basically, if you go to the Grand Canyon and take a beautiful shot of the Grand Canyon, when many people see it, why they want to go to the Grand Canyon and take their own beautiful shot of it. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to sell your shot of the Grand Canyon. If that were not bad enough, the entire world has been photographed now. When I went to Santorini, for example, I thought I might come back with some nice shots of pretty Greece and, why, surely these would sell a few prints here or there, right? Well, the Internet is a small place and there are photographers who live in Santorini who shoot it each and every day, who have better shots than my week long excursion will afford me. I can’t compete with that. So, what to do? I like photography, I don’t want to give it up, but I need a plan B here.

There are a few things I’ve always wanted to try that I never got around to attempting as well. Cold wax painting, while similar to encaustics creates work that is easier to photograph. I’m also giving some serious thought to doing something like pastels or cold wax painting and layering this using Photoshop with photography. I’m still mulling over this, these new ideas, and may explore it some more at some point. Or not, as the case may be.

Last weekend I took a workshop with Art Wolfe and he discussed some of the same things I have talked about here. There were probably close to 200 photographers in the room there all trying to figure out how they too can become the next Art Wolfe. He talked about doing abstract work and this struck a chord with me. I am starting to feel the pull of doing more abstract photography since it might help overcome some of the burdens I have laid out here. It’s easy to ship, I can blow it up larger on demand, it’s not as fragile as an encaustic or a pastel, but it offers some of the same design elements as these type of pieces. Still thinking over this approach as well.

Now I’m left wondering if I should get an art coach but I don’t think that would really help. I’m just left feeling I want to change things up, to maybe try to go down some new paths, cover new ground. I feel somewhat lost.

This weekend, I went over to the Water Gardens, home of my koi breeders, and had an absolutely wonderful time. I really enjoyed my day, as the weather was perfect and I feel I did even come home with some interesting shots, one of which you see here. I still have a nagging lost feeling. I want to do more but stuck in the mud. Please send help or, at least, you know, chocolate or something, right? I don’t know if I need an art coach, a life coach, an art life coach or a giant bottle of whiskey to go with the chocolate. Still trying to figure that one out there, but I did like my water gardens visit and I enjoy the new work, the new direction for my work, so there’s that, right?

I think this is a long process and possibly one for which I do not have many answers. Perhaps there are more unanswered questions than I can muster but this is the journey I’m currently taking with my art. I’m questioning where to go next, starting to think though some of the issues, to maybe solve some of the problems I face when doing this. I don’t want to stop creating, no, I never want to do that but I do want to mix it up, to change it up a bit. Maybe some bold new direction is in order right about now, at least that’s how I’m feeling. Wish me luck down this path of discovery as I am going to need it, right? All of that and yet I somehow feel my journey has only but begun.

Until next time…

PS This image taken at the water gardens. Some algae in the lake, shot with the Canon 5DS and a 100mm macro lens. Looks like a painting, smells like a lake. Enjoy the view, eh?

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