Friday, August 26, 2016

The Demise of the Art Supply Store

I had an interesting visitor in the gallery today - a sales rep who sells frames and artists' materials to stores nationwide. We had a long talk reminiscing about the good old days when art supply stores were plentiful and stocked with real artists' supplies.
When I first began painting (back in the Stone Age), New York City there were art supply stores everywhere you looked, and they were fully stocked with materials for every type of art - fine, commercial and graphic. Arthur Brown, Pearl Paint, Sam Flax and Freidman's had at least one location in the city, but typically many more. It seemed there was a Sam Flax on every corner. They were geared more towards commercial art. This was because all the advertising agencies and publishers needed stores close enough to be able to deliver supplies in a timely manner - sometimes the same day. If an office ran out of something it wasn't a problem because you just went down to the local branch on your lunch hour and charged it to your corporate account. There were specialty stores too, like Joseph Torch, on 14th Street and Eighth Avenue where you could look through shelves loaded with fabulous handmade papers - watercolor and pastel papers from France and Italy. Drawing pads, watercolor blocks of Fabriano and D'Arches were standard items at Joseph Torch.
For everything else there was Arthur Brown. I don't remember when Pearl Paints showed up on my radar. I seem to remember they sold house paint or something, and it wasn't the giant warehouse it later became.
When Pearl Paints on Canal Street closed its doors a few years ago, it sounded the death knell for art supply stores everywhere. Even though I live within commuting distance of New York, with all the mergers and closings, there is no longer a retail store devoted exclusively to art supplies.
I detest the craft stores that have monopolized the market. A. C. Moore (which I consider to be the best of the lot, although by no means a substitute), Michael's and the new kid on the strip mall block, Hobby Lobby, seem to have thousands of items I will never use and nothing I actually need. There isn't a store in existence where I can just walk in and buy something as simple as a Robert Simmons Filbert.
Try getting a roll of primed or unprimed linen canvas, or a bottle of turpentine, let alone a particular kind of brush. Or a stretcher that isn't an even size. It's not that the store is temporarily out of stock; they don't carry odd sized stretchers because there's not enough of a demand for them. A 15" stretcher requires a frame with a 15" measurement somewhere in its configuration, which doesn't exist in their tidy little world of standard sizes. And yet, you'll find row after row of mirrors, candles, furniture, millions of different markers, beads, popsicle sticks, rubber stamps and ready made frames. Heaven help you if you need a frame other than a 8" x 10", 11" x 14" or 16" x 20". At one time you could purchase wood or metal frame sections in any size and assemble it at home. Although they were all very basic, they served in a pinch. Not anymore. They're long gone. Your only option is to custom frame it. All custom frame jobs in these places are horribly overpriced (even after the automatic 50% discount they give on every order), the people aren't very knowledgeable, and it takes many weeks to make one frame. This is not the type of service any serious artist can or should tolerate. Maybe it's fine if you're framing a print to go over the sofa, but an artist doing an exhibition with upwards of a dozen paintings to frame? Never.

When I lived in New York, things were simple and uncomplicated. When I moved out to the suburbs, I became aware of this limited access, but the problem was still manageable. Whenever I couldn't make it to Pearl Paints on Canal Street, I'd drive to the one in Woodbridge, NJ. Not the same company, or so they insisted, but they had the same name, same logo and most, if not all, the same inventory. It was a good alternative to driving into the city. When they closed, I discovered the Utrecht Outlet in Cranbury. They had a fabulous warehouse sale once a year, where they pretty much gave the stuff away. I bought things like sculpting, woodcutting and etching tools, with the idea of using them someday. (I haven't used any of them to date!) But the deals were so fantastic, I couldn't pass them up. One year I came away with two gigantic rolls of primed Belgium linen canvas, and a carton of four  48" x 60" gallery wrapped canvases for less than the cost of one roll of linen.
It's not the bargains I miss so much as the assortment and variety of the materials available. What do art students, amateurs and even professionals do nowadays? I'm constantly amazed by the lack of knowledge of the sales clerks in these stores, and the tacit acceptance as the go-to place to buy supplies. I'm often asked about materials when I'm shopping. My advice is invariably more helpful than the employees'. After all, most have never used any of the supplies they sell. What a difference compared to the employees at Pearl Paints, where the employees were sometimes more knowledgeable than college professors about the materials they were selling.
Art has always been on shaky footing when it comes to choosing a career. How many of you were told by your parents, "That's fine dear, but how are you going to make a living?" Or asked, "When are you going to get a real job?" Fortunately, I never got that from my parents. I was encouraged to pursue the career I seemed to want even as a young child.
I was informed by the visitor in the gallery that the last bastion of this old world order, New York Central Supply, down on the lower East Side is also closing its doors forever. What a shame!
So the odds are definitely stacked against young artists these days, as it becomes harder and harder to obtain the basic materials needed to paint and draw. There are many teachers and schools that still teach classical methods, such as Juliette Aristides in Seattle, Washington. She has written two excellent books, "Classical Drawing Atelier" and "Classical Painting Atelier". One must be very determined to become a classically trained fine artist these days. The rewards of an artist's life, however, are definitely worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Heights!

Yesterday I got 45 page views! Thanks everybody! Keep coming back.
Being in the gallery all day has given me the opportunity to really study the paintings of the artists I represent - Heather St. Clair Davis, Peter Smith, Booth Malone and Larry Wheeler. I've discovered a few interesting things lately. For instance, the Heather St, Clair Davis landscape has a fox in the foreground that's camouflaged by the rust and brown colors in the brush. I made an even more exciting discovery this week. She signed the painting twice! While studying the way she painted the grassy lane that takes your eye right into the middle of the painting, I noticed some underpainting below her signature that called for a closer examination. Under the surface, there it was - her signature in a light, Naples Yellow hue. It's bigger and lower than the second signature, which is in brown. It's been painted over, but is still faintly visible. Now you might ask yourself why she did this. Someone even asked me if this meant it was a fake. Rest assured; it doesn't mean it's a fake. This is an exciting discovery that only adds to the value of the painting.
Two signatures are visible - one in brown, the other in faint yellow.
For centuries artists have repainted, resized and revised their work. When it's visible, it's called "pentimento." The brush strokes and sometimes even the color, come through the top layer of oil paint, making it visible to the viewer. The significance of pentimenti (plural) is that they offer a unique glimpse into the painting process of the artist. (Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of the term if you don't have access to any books on artists' methods and materials such as Mayer, etc.) John Singer Sargent often repainted areas of his large canvases of aristocratic clients in elegant gowns and luxurious surroundings. The most famous of these is the fallen strap on Madame Gautreau's gown in Portrait of Madame X. It caused quite a stir back then - it symbolized scandal and loose morals! Although Sargent exhibited it at the Salon in Paris in 1884, it was not well-received and the sitter's mother asked that it be withdrawn from the exhibition for fear it would ruin her daughter's reputation. Sargent refused, but later repainted the strap so that it was sitting on her shoulder. It's now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is considered one of Sargent's finest paintings. (Personally, I've never cared for it. The contrived pose with her twisted arm, the minimalist background and sickly complexion of the sitter have always made me uncomfortable. Madame Gautreau was considered a beauty in her day, but this painting hardly flatters her. Parisians must have felt the same way, for it was soundly rejected by the public and the critics, and quashed Sargent's hopes of establishing himself as a portrait painter in France.)
I suspect Heather might have restretched the canvas or changed the size, because the first signature is very close to the edge of the frame. I'm not an expert; I only know from my own painting adventures that a composition can be improved by changing the size. (There's something to be said for doing preliminary sketches. Ahem!) The painting has backing paper on it, and I'm not going to open it up to see if that's the case. A prospective buyer, on the other hand, might actually request it to learn more about the painting.
I have a pair of paintings I did of a fox cub or kit and English foxhound puppy in the gallery. Originally they were 8" x 10". I put them in square 8" x  8" frames which I had lying around in the studio. It only occurred to me to cut down the pictures after trying to find some finished paintings that would fit the frames! They look so much better in the square format and yet, it would never have occurred to me to change the size if I hadn't been scrambling to find finished pictures for this exhibit!
Oopps! Unsigned. Better get the paint and brush out!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Travers Week!

Travers Week. When the racing world converges in this small upstate town in anticipation of the summer's final showdown. This is what's known as the "top of the stretch". The homestretch, the final strides to the wire, the finish line! Travers Week is traditionally the week leading up to the most important race of the entire meet. Saratoga is called the "Graveyard of Champions" because so many champions have been beaten here. The Travers is notorious for the favorites getting beaten. Secretariat, Affirmed, American Pharoah all suffered the same fate - a loss in the Travers. Losing to horses who just seem to come out of the woodwork for this one race and then retreat right back into it.
Last Saturday's Alabama was the unofficial start of Travers Week. We were treated to a spectacular win in that race by America's newest sweetheart, Songbird. A filly who looks like her daddy (in horse racing that's a good thing; in people, maybe not so much) and runs like him too. Only faster.
My parking space karma was good, as usual. I left the gallery around 4:30 pm and drove straight down East Avenue to the front door of the track. I did a quick K-turn to snag a spot half a block from Union Avenue, facing in the right direction (away from the track). I got to the paddock in time to see the eight race on the monitors before figuring out my "spot" - the best place to try and get a photo of Songbird. (I took my camera this time.) I looked in my program to see what her post position was, and looked around for tree number 6. No karma here. The "6" was across the paddock, near the saddling enclosure, as far away as it could possibly be. I'd only have two chances to photograph her up close before the race - coming into the paddock and going out. The trend in the past ten years has been to have two grooms accompany the horses in the paddock, so getting a photograph of the horse's head and neck without a person blocking it is now impossible. Undaunted, I pick a spot along the rail near Big Red Spring. It's a shady spot, with long shadows and large patches of sunlight. The  horses for the Fourstardave are now beginning to enter the paddock. King Kreesa and Grand Arch (last year's winner) are being saddled under the trees directly in front of me. I click away. Great light. Great color. I can easily picture what I'm going to paint here.
King Kreesa and Grand Arch (#2)
Then it's, "Riders up!" The horses leave the paddock but I stay put. I don't want to loose my spot. The race goes off and there's an inquiry after the race. It delays the start of the Alabama a few minutes.

"KEEP BACK 4 FEET" is painted in big red letters on all the paddock rails. Used to be a time when there weren't any rails surrounding the paddock. People could just walk among the horses being saddled to get a better look. I know, I know. The world is a different place now. But I think it sends the wrong message to the fans. It certainly isn't a very friendly message. Everybody just ignores the warning.
Entering the paddock
The horses are entering the paddock for the Alabama now. They come into the paddock in consecutive order, one, two, three. I look for number six. Here she comes. Her head's down and there's lots of tack on her - bridle, halter, etc. It's hard to see her face. They walk directly to the saddling shed. They don't take a turn around the tree or anything. I'll only get one more chance for a photo when she comes out. They no longer walk the horses around the paddock one full time. Just put the riders up and walk out to the track. Songbird has a lead pony in the paddock, which further hides her from view.
The pony is in the way as she comes around the corner.
The lead pony blocks my view!
I get wonderful shots of the pony....
It took me three weeks to notice that the saddlecloths are color coded - red and white for number 1, white and black for number 2, etc. It's always the same for every race. I feel rather silly, since I'm supposed to be so observant! They have the name of the race and the horses on them for the Alabama.
I race down to the end of the grandstand to get some photos of the horses warming  up. I finally have a chance to get some full length photos as they warm up. I take some nice shots of Weep No More, Going For Broke, Go Maggie Go, Dark Nile as they circle back towards the starting gate. I finally spot Songbird as she comes around the turn. She looks magnificent. Before they head to the starting gate, Mike Smith crosses himself and looks towards heaven, uttering a silent prayer before the race.
Mike Smith asking for Divine guidance
Then suddenly, he looks confident and ready to go. He smiles as he talks with the outrider.

Songbird wins the Alabama easily - as easily as Frosted won the Whitney two weeks ago. Another awesome performance by the best filly in the country. I wonder what NYRA can possibly do to top this. The Travers seems a bit anti-climatic. I've never known a year when the biggest stars weren't the three-year-olds in the Midsummer Derby. It's as if summer's already over. I can't believe it almost is.
Songbird Takes Flight!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Chronicle of the Horse in Art

I am very pleased to announce that my pastel painting of Flatterer has been included in the National Sporting Library and Museum Exhibition: "The Chronicle of the Horse in Art". This show celebrates the best Chronicle covers over the past 70 years!
Dates August 26-March 26
Member preview reception is August 25
The painting appeared on the Steeplechasing Issue, Friday, January 18th, 2002, and is in the collection of Mr. & Mrs. William Pape. Mr. Pape also commissioned me to do ...two exact copies of the painting for Flatterer's co-owners, Mr. Jonathan Sheppard, who trained Flatterer and Mr. George Harris. Flatterer won the Eclipse Championship four times, in 1983,1984, 1985 and 1986. He was retired to Bill Pape's My Way farm in Unionville PA, where he lived to the ripe old age of 35.
Here's the link to the National Sporting Library & Museum:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Marketing Your Work to New and Young Collectors

I had an idea for an exhibition many years ago, to tack 100 of my drawings and sketches onto large mat boards and sell them, unmatted and unframed for $25.00 apiece. I had read about a similar event in a SoHo gallery in New York City and thought it was a marvelous idea. Here was a chance to get an original work of art for less than the cost of a frame. I figured once a person got to hold a real drawing in their hands and realized it wasn't just a fancy-sounding ink-jet print from a copy machine, they'd snap them up like hotcakes! I don't know if it just wasn't advertised well enough or maybe the Stanley Cup Playoffs were on that night or something, but it was a dismal failure. I must have sold some, but I don't remember how many. Baffled and slightly discouraged, I took them home, put them back in the flat files (still attached to the mat boards) and forgot about them.
While going through the paintings I was preparing to take to Saratoga this summer, I came across this forgotten stash of drawings. I decided I had nothing to loose by taking them with me since they took up very little space in the U-Haul. I thought maybe I could put them in plastic sheets in a 3-ring binder and let customers flip through the book. A friend came to the gallery shortly after I had finished setting up and seeing them displayed so abysmally, offered to mat and shrink-wrap them in exchange for a piece of art. I told him he had a deal!
I priced them a bit higher - $35, $45 and $55 according to the size, stuck them in a few print bins and put them in the "New Collector's Corner." I explain to everyone who comes in that these are all originals and I'm doing this to encourage people to experience the thrill of owning an original work of art. For some, it's a chance to get acquainted with an artist's work without spending a lot of money. For others it's a way to cross some Christmas gifts off their list. What a great gift idea!
The drawings run the gamut from small anatomy studies to large, full color pastels. It's fun to discover what people like. Some people like the pen & ink drawings, while others only like racing scenes. There's something for every taste and every budget. It's a win/win situation.
I've sold more than three-quarters of them already and I'm busily at work creating more. The Bryn Mawr Hound Show is still fresh in my mind, so I'm doing pen & ink drawings of the Junior Handler classes. It's a great way to pass the long hours in the gallery when most people are at the track. If it wasn't so hot and humid on Saturday, I might have ventured over to watch the Fourstardave stakes race, but the air conditioning felt too good to leave.
What lesson have I learned from this? I'm not entirely sure I know the answer. I don't know why the drawings are selling now. I'm sure it helps a great deal to put them in mats. One should never underestimate the power of a neat, clean presentation. Being in a nice gallery helps too. It seems more "legit" than a tent at a hound show or an outdoor art fair. Perhaps I'm explaining my goal of getting art into the hands of new collectors more clearly. I want people to discover the pleasure of owning original art. I want to help them appreciate the creative process. What better way to do it than by making it affordable to everyone - whether they're a new collector or veteran connoisseur?
Oh, by the way, terrible thunderstorms rumbled through Saratoga Saturday afternoon, forcing the cancellation of the day's remaining races. Years ago, I learned about the wild unpredictability of the weather at the Spa. I'm glad I didn't get caught in the storm.
Here are some of the drawings. Enjoy!

Thirsty Hound

Monkton Hall Bassets

In The Ring

Tug Of War

Waiting for the Judge

The Blue Ribbon