Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking In

(Click the image to see it LARGE)
Ah, the self portrait.

I don't think you are officially considered an artist until you do a self portrait.  They are certainly strange things to do...artists spend so much time looking at the world, so when they eventually turn that artistic eye upon gets weird.

I mean, we are, strangely, the best and the worst of subjects.

We are the BEST subject because we are infinitely patient with the artist...because we ARE the artist.  We don't complain about having to pose for yet another reference picture, moving to another location, nor do we demand payment.

We are the WORST subjects because....well...who the heck ARE we, anyway?  I mean, I've always wanted to paint myself brooding over some incredibly dark and weighty topics, but people who know me as the person with a smile on my face would see that scowling person and say "Who the heck is that?"
I don't really know.

So, I took a page from a watercolorist I admire a great deal, Andrew Wyeth, and photographed myself looking away from the viewer, staring at whatever caught my fancy outside the window.  (I also took one looking out into the evening face all but obliterated by the glare...but that is a portrait for a later time.)  

I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.  It does actually LOOK like me, the solids are pretty solids and the lights are interesting in an abstract kind of way.  I'm enjoying using Copic markers to adjust the hue and value of the watercolor..punching in the solids a bit more and unifying color.  While I enjoy the bright, blossom-hued, watercolor paintings that most people think of when you say the word "watercolor", I prefer to have a bit of a darker, neutral turn to my paintings.  Maybe it is my attempt to be broody...maybe it's just a guy thing.  I mean, I have antelope antlers on my wall, for Pete's sake.

So, I'm going to call my first, watercolor self-portrait (well, my second if you count the one I did 20 years ago) a success.

And I'm going to hang it on the wall of my studio.

Right next to the antlers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Landscape number two.

This piece is a tribute to the kinds of things I love about living in the country.  Often, there are these ordinarily mundane buildings...a shed, a house, a store...that are made electric by a dash of snow, fall leaves, or in this case, the evening sky.  I like the contrast..a chunk of Americana dropped into a Maxfield Parrish painting.  I hope it's not just me who sees these things, because they are astonishingly beautiful.

I'm enjoying painting with watercolor, particularly when it is anchored by the solid, abstract darks like in this piece, which I call "Eighteen".  The solids let me be more playful with how I lay in color and texture without worrying about losing how the image reads.  This is only my second-ever watercolor painting, but I feel that it was successful in conveying what I was looking for.

Why "Eighteen"?  Well, I grew up just outside of the little crossroad town that this store sits in, and when I was a kid, I made a game out of counting the buildings as I went by...a special way of naming things that a kid doesn't have a name for.  This is the last of the buildings I counted...."Eighteen".  I still remember counting them.

I decided to put up an Etsy store to sell my originals, posters, and whatever art-related goodies that come out of my head.  You can find it at DaveFloraArt.  I've only got a couple of pieces up there now, but more will be coming soon.

Right now, I'm working on a watercolor self-portrait.  If it turns out to be anything worth seeing, you'll see it next week.
Till then, have a good one and stay safe.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Artist - The Muse

Ah, the artist and his Muse.
We have the Greeks to thank for the idea of the Muse.  They were thought to be goddesses (there were apparently 9 of them) of inspiration to the various arts.  The word "Muse" is the source word for "music", and was associated with the arts to such a degree that the word actually meant "art".  You can check out Wikipedia for more information.

Inspiration is important to artists.  It is as if each artist has a guiding star that leads him or her in a particular direction...that quietly coaches them to pay attention to some aspect of the world while ignoring others.  In a very real sense, artists "see" the world through our Muse.  It doesn't seem to be a conscious choice on the artists part as to what they see in the world.  There is a feeling of being led to it by some invisible hand.  We only know we are there when we arrive...led by our silent Muse.

And she's a bitch.

I say that because, while she will definitely lead, she will not ALWAYS lead.  In many cases, she is completely absent from your perception...usually when you need her most.  It's like she gets you all excited to go on a road trip, you spend the night packing your things, the car is running.....and she doesn't show up that morning.  She's not returning your texts.

Maybe this is because there are only 9 of the things and your particular Muse is in Hoboken at the time, teasing some other slob into waking up in the middle of the night to slap paint on canvas.  I don't know.  I just know she's gone.

Now, in the past, there have been many famous artists who would spend their time drunk or wacked out on drugs when the Muse was gone.  They would waste away, pining for her like a fixated teenager, occasionally rushing to their easel to frantically work on some incredible masterpiece, finally collapsing as their life breath whispers away saying, "It's...finished."

Give me a break.

That kind of "suffering artist" idea has left a bad taste in the mouths of countless should-be artists over the decades....folks who could have had satisfying artistic careers except that they didn't want to be "an artist" and die alone after drinking themselves blind on too much bad absinthe.

Well, you don't have to.

Let's say that you were inspired to create a really cool, new piece of work.  You've gotten a promising start, but when you go back down and look at the thing, instead of feeling inspired passion, you're like...."meh".  The Muse is gone!  What do you do??
Well, you sit down and work anyway.
"But..I don't even FEEL like...."
Do it.
"But what if I mess it...."
DO it.
"Maybe I should look for inspiration!  Then I.."
DO IT!  DO IT NOOOOOOOOW!! (Imagine Arnold Schwarzeneger saying it like that.)

I'm serious.  I actually have my wife to thank for this, and I've wrote about it before: The 15-minute rule.  What you're doing when you sit down to do art anyway is making a nest.  A nest for your Muse.  Instead of wishing she was there, instead of trying to chase her down, make a spot for her by just sitting down and doing something.  I can only think of ONE time when I sat down in a foul mood and the whole project went off the rails.  Most often, I sit down, thinking I'm a lousy artist and not knowing what the heck I was doing.....and two hours fly by and I'm a happy artist again.

It happened last night, actually.  See, I completed that watercolor of the "Stockwell Sycamore" and fell completely into depression....mostly because I tried to sell the piece (I TRIED ONCE) and failed.  Immediately after that, I got sick and it knocked me out of a week of work.  During that time, I was absolutely despondent. I was sure I wasn't an artist.  I was some kind of half-breed wannabe who was better off in a cubicle instead of doing art.

To put it bluntly, my Muse had checked out.

So, I forced myself to start a landscape painting and I still wasn't feeling good about it.  Last night, I came home, crabby from lack of sleep and depression.  I looked at my wife over dinner and asked "What the heck am I going to do?  I'm a horrible artist!"  She didn't even look up from her plate.  "Just show up, dear.  15 minutes, and then you can quit."

"Ok," I grumbled.  "15 minutes."  Maybe I could read more of that Jack Reacher book I was enjoying afterward.

And then, I was an artist for two hours.  It wasn't crap after all.  Maybe I DID know what I was doing.  My wife came over and said "Have you ever done this sort of stuff before?  It's pretty cool."

Don't wait for your Muse to show up.  Just make sitting down to do art a habit...rain or shine.  Not every piece will be a shining star, but more will be if you do something than if you don't do art at all.

Make a nest.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Branching Out

Different is good.

Most of you know me as an illustrator of all things weird and spooky, which I really do enjoy, but not many know about my deep and abiding love for the place where I live.  Well, I suppose if you enjoyed my stories you might...they all center around the same rural, small town, agricultural area where I grew up.  I love this place.  I understand its rolling hills, tree-lined fence rows and billowing sky like I do the back of my hand.

And well I should.

My mother and father are from this place.  They grew up not more than ten miles from each other, were sweethearts in school, and married just before my dad was drafted into the army.  Dad ran a dairy/tobacco farm, so I spent countless days (and nights) in the fields exploring, wandering and...looking.

See, that's what artists do.  By whatever weird gift of God or brain defect, we SEE things, and struggle to reproduce the essence what we see.  Even when I do fiction, I try to write, draw or paint some of what I see into it.  I suppose that idea is where the old writer's adage "write what you know" comes from.  If you put what you know..or see...into your work it somehow becomes more real or true.  And people can sense true, my friend.  They know when they are reading or seeing something that is from a genuine experience, and something that was false.  They tend not to like the false works so much.
Anyway, that brings me to my latest project.  I decided to try a landscape.


Now, I know it doesn't sound that exciting, but here is how it came to be.  Two years ago, I was walking through the streets of my hometown (Flemingsburg, Ky) enjoying the Fall colors, when I happened upon a tall sycamore tree that was reaching up, out of the shadow of the valley, and thrusting its branches into the last, bronze rays of the evening sun.  "What a great picture this would make", I thought, and quickly snapped a picture.

Now, TWO YEARS LATER, I was dissecting the past year in my mind, and the thing that really stood out to me is that I had grown more artistically and gotten more attention (and sold more pieces) by doing large, colored work than by working on my comic.  I decided that it may benefit me as an artist (and financially) to do more large, color paintings and less sequential work.
So, I sat down and painted a watercolor.  Well, it's actually a mixed medium, but the watercolor is what makes it interesting, primarily, so watercolor it is.  I call it "Stockwell Sycamore".
(Click to see it's worth it.)
I'm pretty encouraged with it.
So, expect to see more of these types of pieces this year.  I'm going to set up an Etsy store where I can sell my original work and whatever I can think of to make prints of...both of my weird stuff, and this.
Because, in my head, they're all about the same place, anyway.

More soon.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Artist - Be It So Resolved

So, it's a new year.  It is a time for looking back to see what we have accomplished, and for looking forward to see what star we want to steer by.

If you are, like most artists, striving for something, this can be a particularly challenging time.  Most artists, serious ones, that is, are borderline neurotic when it comes to trying to decide what sort of steps they should be taking to further themselves artistically in the coming year.

Well, for those of my neurotic brothers and sisters, I have good news and bad news:
It doesn't matter.

This is bad news because when all is said and done, there is an inescapable quota of damned luck that takes place that will either skew whatever result you have into being successful or unsuccessful.  No matter how carefully planned and plotted, no matter how closely you follow your scheme, your wife gets pregnant, or you break your leg, or lose your job, and the whole thing goes to hell.

This is also good news because, in spite of your pitiful efforts, despite your (to you) obvious flaws, incredible and magical things, lucky things, will happen too....putting you into places you could not have foreseen and doing things that you never expected you would be doing.

So, now that you are staring down at your notebook scribbled with plans or your hopeful production spreadsheet in Excel with tears in your eyes after having read that last bit, what CAN you do in spite of such relentless luck?  It's actually simpler that you think:

You make art.

That's all.  That's your plan.  Do the work, show it to someone however you can.  Don't waste time obsessing over the best place to showcase your art for maximum visibility....concentrate on creating the sort of work that fills you with joy.  Learn from your failures and move ahead with each new piece leaving  you feeling like you're going to ask that really cute girl out on a date.  Nervous, hopeful, full of dread, but determined to do it anyway.  Because after that piece, success or failure, is the next.  And the next.  And the next.
Don't worry about luck.  Play the odds.
Sooner or later, you'll have successes.  You'll learn from your failures and make fewer of them.  Slowly, piece by piece, you will become more of the artist you want to be.

And when the next year rolls around and you look back, you know what?  YOU WILL HAVE BEEN AN ARTIST.  That's all you need to be.

Now, go do art!