Tips for artists

I love doing art as well as teaching it. I've done it as a hobby for as long as I can remember and have been a full time professional artist since 1994.

It can be overwhelming for the budding artist. From developing the basic skills of rendering simple objects with a pencil or paintbrush, to fully mature and well crafted final works of art, there is lots to learn. Working with modern graphics tablets and software is yet another complex direction. Then there’s art as a business. Promoting and selling your work, entering shows, working with galleries and keeping your financial books in order! Alas I love it all!

Only 3% of artists in North America (visual artists, musicians, poets et all) actually make a living from their art. I have been very blessed to say I've been able to since my first year. As time permits I hope to use this page to pass along some of my learnings and advise to anyone remotely interested.

If there are any subjects you would like me to address from "how tos" to handling income tax please email me. I hope to add videos shortly where appropriate.

Shows and Jurying

Being an amateur or professional artist is one of the most rewarding things you can do for your soul. But art for the most part can't be done by committee, its a close up and a personal journey.

It can be a little intimidating because your art is YOU. If anyone at a show, a juror, a facebook page or even anyone in the whole planet doesn't like your art, then they don't like YOU! So intentionally putting your artwork into a show for someone else to judge is scary. Then if you don’t get it in!!!  Your art mustn’t be good enough. Not true!!!

Have you ever been to an art show and thought my work is at least as good as that one? Or, how on earth did that piece get in here? Here’s what happens.

Shows usually have three or four judges. Their main mandate is to create an overall pleasing and interesting show for the public. That means having a variety of work. A judge could spot a nice floral painting and give it their two thumbs up. A few minutes later they find yet another good flower painting so they approve that one too. Later another 4 equally as good come up as they walk around but don't get picked. Not because they're not good, but because they think the show has enough flower paintings!
Or maybe in their honest professional opinion, all the the flower pieces are clearly superior but they don't want to be known as "the flower judge".

Ugly paintings get in for the opposite reason. Not because they’re superior, but because there are few similar ones and they add variety.

About paint, color and light fastness

Everyone has noticed colors fading on things - clothing, furniture, old Coca-Cola signs. But nowhere is it more important than in art work. Does all art work fade? Do watercolors fade more than oils or acrylics? How about prints? How can you tell if an art piece you make or are about to get printed will last?

Paint manufacturers can't "make" the primary colors. When they need red, yellow and blue, they have to go out into nature and find things that are those colors. Everything from iron oxide (rust) and dirt to exotic plants and semi-precious gems are ground up to make artist paint. Depending on the pigment, some paints are naturally very color fast or "permanent," as it is called in the art world, and others are not, and are termed "fugitive". A red made from ground up rubies, for instance, will last forever. Yellow ochre and lamp black, which are simple permanent pigments used by Neanderthal artists, have lasted thousands of years.

Pigments used by themselves would not stick well to anything, so a carrier, or "glue," must be added to the pigment to make it useful as a paint or drawing medium. When the carrier is oil it becomes oil paint; gum arabic creates watercolor paint; wax makes wax crayons, and acrylic polymers, acrylic paint. As it is the pigment characteristics which determine the light fastness, and not so much the carrier, all painting and drawing mediums have the same permanency for a given pigment.

Unfortunately, several non-permanent, fugitive colors are used in paint today, even "artists grade" paint. The trick is to know which ones to use. Some artist grade paint pigments will show noticeable fading or color change in just a few weeks!

When you purchase paint, try to ensure each and every color you use is light fast and permanent. This is extremely important. Even if you are a rank beginner, as you grow and gain skills and confidence, the painting you are about to start may one day be sold.

Good paints have light fast rating numbers of 1 or A and AA on their containers. If they don't, bight the bullet and junk them before you regret it later. Professional grade paints are actually easier to use even. They flow and cover better because of their finer quality and pigment loads.

Why does paint vary in price?

As mentioned above, when paint manufactures make artist quality paint, real natural material is sourced out and finely ground up to make colored pigments. Not only does this produce a certain hue (think shade of color), but the natural pigments have other valuable characteristics - amazing luminosity or they do or don't stain or they have superior fade resistance etc.

Some materials are cheap and plentiful- dirt, soot and such while other are rare and expensive - semi precious gems. Some materials are soft and others hard as rocks. Grinding stone-like material into super-fine dust obviously takes more manufacturing effort and time. Combine that with an expensive source materials equals expensive paint. Simple as that. On that, artist grade paint is ground finer than student paints.

Artists and students can bock at some of the prices thinking they're getting ripped off so paint manufacturers often make a poor man's substitute for the hue, usually labeled with the word "hue". Check out veridian green against veridian green hue in watercolor paints for instance. Almost double the price. The blue/green colors look very similar when you paint them side by side. BUT the hue is way too strong and is a staining pigment. It stains all the other colors around it to be much more green and once dry, is very difficult to wet and remove.
Real veridian can be gently glazed over another color to shift it's hue a little. A little dabbing with a damp brush (termed a thirsty brush) and the green lifts off like magic!