Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Rebecca in the Sun 2" 11 x 14, figure, pastel, $200.00

"Rebecca in the Sun 2"  11 x 14, figure, pastel
I have quite a few friends who have spent much of their adult life working in the tourist industry.  My brother for example has been a balladeer at Colonial Williamsburg for somewhere around 20 years.  I have been a sketch artist at amusement parks or working in the time share industry as an artist for 30. Now my son works in time shares and comes to me with his amusing tales.  In fact, both of my kids have come to work with me at resorts since they were babies, so they have been trained for this profession since birth.  It is not an easy life. When you are having a bad day you still have to put on that smile mask and be polite to strangers.  You have to bury your anger towards your coworker, or boss, or ex-husband, or the little screaming kid who just got cotton candy in your hair, and pretend like you are happy to see these Hawaiian shirted people from New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. These visitors often ask the same questions over and over again and it can get exhausting.  The visiting masses usually mean well, but it is hard to pretend like this for 8 or more hours a day.

Don't get me wrong, I obviously still love people and  have no regrets about my past career choices, but when I saw this young lady sitting on the stairs in costume, on "stage", as we used to call it at Busch Gardens, I knew there was more to her story than just looking pretty.  She was grasping her mug tightly and looking out into the passing crowds with an unreadable expression. Something deeper was on her mind than just soaking up the sun. I could relate. With her permission I snapped a few photos and have so far completed two pieces from these images.  This is the second one.  I may try a third soon.

It is for this reason that I have continued on with my series of Colonial Williamsburg Docents when normally I would have become bored with it long ago.  Yes, these folks depict colonial life in a tourist town where people want to buy colonial themed art, but also for the first time in my life  I am not in that position.  I can empathize and relate to them from a distance as the tourist, not as the touron.

I used Canson Mi-teintes paper with a warm ochre tint to it.  Usually I use the smooth side, which is like working on vellum, but this time I flipped the paper over and used the highly textured side.  The purpose for this is that you can see the color of the paper peek through in the little valleys, and the pastel layers skimming over the top of the hills.  Zoom in and check it out, its pretty cool.  On top of this layering I also added my own textures, often using purples and golds in place of the normal browns. I used my imagination a bit on her environment by adding the wood steps and tweaking the light to be more mystical and golden since I rarely copy a photo exactly as it appears.

I really like this drawing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

School of hard "A"rt knocks: Something I did not know about "A"rt shows

Last weekend my husband and I set up at the Port Warwick Art Festival in Newport News.  The show is only about 10 minutes from our house.  Every year for the past several years we would attend it as a guest then I would get all depressed and come home and pout.  It was the same every year.  I was so disgusted at myself that I had not achieved my goal of becoming a real "A"rtist, that I could hardly look myself in the mirror after attending this show.  What was wrong with me?  Why was I such a coward that I could not apply to an art show but I could sit for hours cranking out quick profile portraits like a robot?  Not that there is anything wrong with being a sketch artist at Busch Gardens, but I knew in my heart that I was meant to make more meaningful art.

Finally, my day came.  We spent a year putting together my display.  I threw together whatever art I could find buried in closets around the house, then began creating new pieces. We started small last fall, at a local monthly festival called 2nd Sundays in Williamsburg, but when I was ready I knew what I wanted to do first.  The first show that I applied to was the Port Warwick fest.  Much to my astonishment I was accepted!  It ended up being the second big show for me at the end of a very exhausting first summer of realizing my dream of being an "A"rtist.

I wasn't doing the show to make money really, but the money wasn't bad for two days of rainy weather.  I also wasn't doing it to get in the papers, make waves or win an award.  I was doing it to prove to  myself that I could.  I was also very excited to walk around the festival and meet other real "A"rtists.  Some of them traveled from across the country to attend this festival. I was so honored to be part of it. I learned so much by the end of this show that I felt like it was an entire semester's worth of information.

When the time came to announce the winners of the show I was badly confused when they eliminated my category of Drawing, even though I had no expectation of winning.  It seemed to me that all of the other categories were well represented. Sometimes several people in each category were winning ribbons, but what about the pastel artists? What is wrong with drawing?  I thought the impressionists made their point with the world 150  years ago for God's sake! Pastel is a REAL art folks!  Yikes! The application said we would be up for an award, so why did they eliminate it?  I was so confused. No one spoke to me to explain why they did this, so I naturally assumed that between myself and the one other dry medium artist that our work was not deserving of recognition, or perhaps that all of Degas's and his contemporaries work of trying to change the image of pastel and other dry medium was a waste of their time.  It did not make any sense at all, but I swallowed my dismay, put on my smile and went back to my booth. The impressionists were sure to be rolling over in their graves, but I guess there wasn't anything that I could do about it.

Shortly after the judging, the other artist and her mother approached me.  I could not believe how young she was.  Her work was amazing. She was the same age as my children and all of those many kids who I taught and mentored for years at Busch Gardens. Wow, she is doing shows at this age? She has moxy! My heart went out to her when I realized how upset and confused she was too, and I must say that my mama bear claws came out. Now I was mad.  I was more than mad I was pissed off. I waited all of my life for this?  Its one thing to discredit my art focus, I'm just a 49 year old quick sketch vet, but to do this to this very talented young woman seemed ethically wrong.

I of course had to do something, but I was also asking myself how I always manage to get involved in these type of conflicts.  I was torn between sucking it up and living with it or standing up for us. The last time that I had stood up for my rights with an employer they reamed me out big time. (I asked if I could have a 15 minute lunch break during my 6 hour shift.  Apparently they disagreed.)  Now, every time that I get in these situation I have to ask myself is it worth being demeaned and threatened or should I stand up for myself.

Finally Her mother and I agreed that we should go talk to someone. The other artist was very worried about upsetting the committee and hurting someone's feelings, I was worried that I would get bitched out, but I knew that we had to stand up for ourselves as artists. We marched across the street to the artist check in desk. As we voiced our frustration with the woman in charge of  volunteers it became more and more apparent that not one person had any idea why we were frustrated with the exception of one art student volunteer. These folks were not artists.  Since they were not artists they couldn't possibly know how long and hard dry medium artists have fought to raise the image of their work.

The woman in charge of the volunteers explained that when there are less than 3 artists representing a medium, that medium was automatically eliminated from jury consideration.  This contradicted what they had told the other artist earlier, so we became even more defensive. She promised to consider changes to next year's show and explained that the judge had nothing to do with it. The other artist and I said that we may not return next year.  Why should we come back if you don't acknowledge drawing as an art form? We felt that this should have been explained in the application, and when he was announcing awards the judge should have clarified this as well.  We should also have been told in advance and that the information be consistent.  Finally one of the other volunteers tactfully escorted us back to our booth, full of apologies.  I was on the verge of tears.

After I returned to my art cave I felt horrible.  Maybe I should have let it go.  Why do I have such a big mouth?  Here I am finally at the show I always dreamed of and I go and screw it up.  Let me tell you, I felt like a load of crap.  A few hours later however the 2 bigwig women who organized the entire event came over.  Man, I was in trouble now.  I thought that I was about to be told off by two other working "A"rtists, but it only took a few moments to realize that they were not artists either. They loved the arts and so they created this festival ten years ago and they both work very hard at making it a positive experience for working artists.   They said that they had no clue that this clause in the  judging process would be offensive.  They didn't realize that it should have been explained to us.  They said that they realized that it took courage for the other artist and I to approach them and urged us to return next year and encourage other dry medium artists to apply too since apparently we are a rare breed. Wow, you could have knocked me over with a feather!

I  should also say that other than this glitch the show was amazing.  They fed us a banquet catered dinner with beer and wine Saturday night.  They had a gaggle of teen aged boys, I think perhaps from the local high school football team, help us set up and tear down. They sent over free lunches both days, free water all day and a free breakfast Sunday.  Sunday afternoon the volunteers even brought me a mimosa, my very first.  Most shows don't do this I am told.

It turned out that I won the biggest reward I could ever hope for. I learned one more very valuable lesson about the world of "A"rt.  I learned that this wonderful show was not organized by working artists, and so I was wrong to think that they should understand our feelings and know our history. I have no doubt that there will be other situations like this in the future, so I should not take it personally. I learned also that it is important to respectfully tell the organizers when they have insulted, because hopefully it will improve their show in the future and make it easier for other pastelists to show their work.  Finally, I learned that dry medium working artists are uncommon.  I didn't fully realize this since I am friends with so many other pastel portrait artists. The judge urged me to refer to my work not as pastel paintings, but as drawings for this very reason.  If this helps to raise the image of my medium, then so be it.  Ok, lessons learned.

"Fanny Grinding Corn" Figure, Charcoal, 8 x 10, $175

"Fanny Grinding Corn"  8 x 10, charcoal

This little drawing was one of the first in the series of colonial figures that I drew.  I was still working full time as the artist in residence / activities coordinator at a large resort, so I would bring my drawings into work and spend time with them when my schedule permitted.  Guests would often come just to watch me draw and I used that opportunity to do my job, so my boss didn't mind me bringing them in.  People love to watch an artist at work.

I used Canson  Mi-teintes art paper.  I prefer using the smoother side of the paper when doing work in charcoal, because it allows me to finger blend and use a hard eraser to create all of these wonderful textures.  I used white conte pencils to pop the highlights, allowing the grey of the paper to show for the mid tones.  The secret to working this way is to avoid layering the white on top of the black, as this creates a very cold muddy grey.  I also did texturing and subtle shading with graphite.  Be careful when combining graphite with conte or charcoal, the graphite can create a slick surface, and the charcoal will not pass over it well, so use this technique selectively.  When done correctly however, it is a beautiful soft hatching technique that gives the drawing motion and life.

You can bid for this through my site at http://www.dailypaintworks.com/artists/emily-christoff.  It's listed price is $175.00, but I am starting the bidding low, at only $75 because I am clearing space on my display wall for newer work.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The "A"rt school of hard knocks; The difference between my portraiture and my studio work.

"Al and Maggie"

There is a fine line between portrait and figurative art.  I don't mean to discredit portraiture, that would make me a hypocrite for sure!  I just mean that the way that I approach composition, color, application and even paper type is different for a portrait than for my studio work.  Traditional portraits are normally of a head and bust centered or even floating in the middle of the page.  The subject is usually smiling in contemporary work and the end result is very flattering. The subject is often making direct eye contact with the viewer and is just sitting there posing, looking pretty. Portraits don't tell a deeper story but are all about the likeness that the client wishes the world to see.

A portrait of a girl that I did from a photo several years ago in charcoal with white conte on grey Canson mi-teintes paper.
A portrait of a dog that I did from a photo.  The clients asked that it be drawn with a toy in his mouth.  I really did not enjoy doing this painting but I am including it here as an example of my typical portrait request. The clients loved it, that is all that matters when doing commissioned portrait work.
A portrait that I did from life of a young lady wearing a hat.  It took me less than 10 minutes.  This is what I refer to when I call something a quick sketch.  Some times I call them McSketches but never in front of a client!   I have been a quick sketch artist and teacher for a very long time.

When I am creating a figurative studio piece for myself I want it to be more narrative and tell a story that the viewer will be drawn to.  (No pun intended... well ok, I intended it.)  The composition is not centered with my studio work, but I attempt a more interesting format, often breaking the composition into thirds. I am also a bit more expressive with my technique, something that most of my portrait clients do not usually appreciate.  My clients have always preferred a glossy perfect reproduction of their photo in most cases as you can see above.  I give that to them because it is what they want, but I don't necessarily enjoy doing it.

I don't usually post my portrait commissions on the blog unless they are really special.  In the past I have felt that they are simply a different animal than my studio work.  However, my increased production of non-commissioned studio work and more time spent in study this past year has changed my commissioned work tremendously.  It is also obvious also that my long history of earning my bread and butter as a portrait artist influences my studio work. When creating work for shows I mostly create figurative pieces and drawings of animals because that is what I have been doing since I was a know it all cocky art student back in the 80s. The end result is that the two breeds of my art world are merging.  I like it.  It feels right.

I was so very excited when Joy sent me this amazing photo of her husband Al and their dog Maggie. For those of you who know me know that I am very close with my furry family.  My mom still teases me because as a little girl I would spend more time talking to my cat than conversing with other kids. So, when I saw the love in this photo I related to it and then begged the client to allow me to draw it as the photo appeared instead of just a floating head of a dog.  You can see the relationship between Al and Maggie.  It tells a story of love.  I hope I get more commission requests like this.

I did the drawing in pastel on Canson mi-teintes tan paper using the rough side of the paper.  You can see the texture of the paper and it's original tint in the valleys of the paper, and see the pastel stroke sitting on top of the hills. Remember that the viewer's eye always enters a drawing at the lower left of the page. In this composition I used the diagonal angle of the texture of Al's shirt to lead us to Al and Maggie's arms, which lead you right up to Maggie's face. Her face leads up up to Al's face, then the line of the chair leads you right back down to their arms which lead you back up to Maggie in a circle. Just to make sure that the viewer's eyes stay in the drawing I created a diagonal texture in the large negative space behind them, aiming right back to Maggie. When using a diagonal in your own work remember that this creates energy.  I normally keep the background subtle so it doesn't cause a war with the subject in a portrait however here I felt that this piece would be more interesting with energetic diagonal strokes. My intention is that it would suggest the metaphysical power and energy of love raining down on these two motionless creatures frozen in time.  They almost seem to be soaking up each other's love in silence.