Archives for May 2012

The Sum of the Parts Has Very Little to Do With Money

How will our paintings be judged in the future? In my opinion the greatest paintings, those that have stood the test of time are sincere efforts where each part holds its own while staying subservient to the whole.

I see far too many poorly painted hands, ill-considered drapery and sloppy backgrounds slap dashed together and no consideration with regards to unity. I love the way that William McGregor Paxton typically achieved this in The Breakfast (see above). Paxton said, “Paint all things in relation to the focus.” He never said, “Don’t give a hoot about anything but the face.” The legendary acting coach, Constantin Stanislavski, famously remarked,”There are no small parts, only small actors.” The same holds true for painting, no small part is unimportant.

For me, the reason behind such a haphazard approach is pretty obvious. It’s a function of quantity over quality. It’s the mindset that the more portraits I paint, the more money I make. As an illustrator, and now as a portrait artist, my philosophy has always been to do my finest work, regardless of what I was being paid. Those who paint with one eye on the clock and one on the canvas will never achieve true mastery. When the meter is running how is it possible to create great paintings?

Back when I was an illustrator, I lived by, what I called the $10,000 rule. I would put $10,000 worth of effort into every painting I created, regardless of what I was being paid. I reasoned that when a potential client had an important commission, they would go to the highest quality artist, and ultimately my efforts paid off.

I’m afraid I can’t buy that the best strategy for a long, satisfying and lucrative career is churning out substandard work. Experience has taught me that the only way to realize my true artistic and earning potential is to put my focus on quality, not quantity. Until next time…

Getting Paid to Learn to Paint

Generally speaking, most artists develop their skills in one of two ways; they either study under someone more experienced or they go the self-taught route. Rest assured, in the future I’ll weigh in on both. But since this is my first blog entry I’ll keep the focus on your’s truly, because my painting methodology evolved in a peculiar way. Therefore, I hereby officially start this blog by providing a little context.

I began drawing at the ripe old age of two. I drew incessantly while growing up and eventually enrolled in an art college with the hope of becoming a great artist. I was very comfortable with my drawing ability and I looked forward, with tremendous anticipation, to learning how to paint. However, this was the late 1960s and the prevailing philosophy, with regards to art education, was that technical knowledge inhibits creativity, so I left with a diploma in one hand and in the other, the knowledge that I would never ever be able to paint to save my life.

Thanks to my innate drawing ability, hard work, a little moxie and a pinch of savvy, I was able to carve out what eventually evolved into a high-profile career in the world of illustration. Initially, I developed a style which caught on quickly, and miraculously, I was asked to join the faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

I started out doing cartoon style drawings–ironically, the same kind of work I did in high school–which over a ten-year span evolved into a more refined realistic drawing style. However, my desire to paint never went away, but as a busy illustrator I could ill afford the time to experiment or study with an established painter. My only viable option was to incorporate painting into my illustration work. That way I would get paid to learn how to paint. Brilliant! Only one problem, I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I tried to read as much as I could on the subject, but quickly discovered each book presented virtually the same set of confusing and illogical rules, what I now refer to as myth-information. So, I reasoned, since the methods they professed seemed so clueless, I would do the exact opposite of what they said.

What made my situation so unique was that I had students who were intrigued with all my newfound ideas and were eager to put them into action. I was the mad scientist and we were all guinea pigs. There was no agenda to be reckoned with, and no philosophy to be navigated. If something worked across the board I knew it was bulletproof, and if it didn’t, then I had to keep searching for a better solution. Little by little, a logical methodology of universal truths began to evolve.

My illustration career was taking off, too. I was painting covers for Time Magazine, illustrating national ad campaigns and creating movie posters. In each illustration assignment I painted, I would keep experimenting, always trying out some new twist or turn, all the while getting paid to learn how to paint.

As hard as it is to imagine, every single painting I did was a paid assignment. I learned how to paint by virtue of a collaborative effort funded by my illustration clients. The result is an extremely effective and sound methodology that allows me to be the kind of portrait artist I dreamed I would one day become. Until next time…