Success = Focus

beach sky painting
Active Sky 9 x 12

Artists are obsessives. We talk about art, live art, breathe art. Plan, research, create. All the time. Even on vacation we’re snapping reference photos and stopping by galleries and museums.

However, having a razor-sharp obsession on art doesn’t always equal success. The art world is a very big place. It’s easy to get lost.

And listening to “experts” makes it worse. They command us with “101 Important Things You Need to Do to Be a Successful Artist.” It’s crazy. We’d need to hire 10 assistants to do everything. So, we try to explore different media, subject matter, and techniques. Sell online, through galleries, festivals, direct to customers, and shows. Social media, blog, network, P.R. It’s overwhelming.

And going in too many directions creates superficial art. We risk never reaching our potential because we’re too busy chasing everything.

Instead, I try to stay with the basics. Simplify. Focus. Create art every day. Market only to outlets where it makes sense. Don’t do everything. Spend quiet days in my studio and just paint. I work with just a few important galleries and have a simple online presence. And when my “must do” list gets too crazy, I brutally slash out the dead weight.

Makes life easier.

–Mary Hubley

Painting With Your Eyes Closed

Someone mentioned in my class today, wouldn’t it be fun to paint with your eyes closed.

We had been talking about how you should paint what you feel. Monet and Van Gogh painted impressions of their surroundings. They painted with emotion. It was about the air and light rather than rendering a perfect photographic image.

I have found impressionist painting to be intensely meditative. Quiet. You breathe in your surroundings. Taste the bold shapes and intensity of color and optimism in the atmosphere. That’s the important part. You breathe out by placing informed paint onto the canvas.

To the Hill 5 x 5 Mary Hubley

Today the class painted sky and field. One of the students went very minimalist, with a simple blue sky and a yellow field. Uncomplicated. Palette knife work. So expressive. As if he were painting with his eyes closed. As if he were in prayer or meditating while his hand reflected what he felt. This student smiles while he works.

For me, it’s almost a form of yoga practice. Close your eyes. What do you feel? What do you hear? Feel the sensation of breathing in and out. Now open your eyes and quickly get those sensations down on the canvas.

This idea of painting with your eyes closed can be used as a warm-up to painting, or as an actual on-going practice. It will make you relax. It will loosen you up. And you will end up smiling the entire time you paint.

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Quick Demo: Village House Study

Last week, I painted in the gardens of the historic Fatio House in downtown St. Augustine, Florida – a museum surrounded by beautiful Spanish Colonial-style buildings. I often paint small when I’m in the field to get the basics quickly. If I like the painting after I get back to my home studio, I’ll often repaint it in a larger size. Here’s my progress on a tiny study:

1. Here’s my paint box and plein air gear sitting in front of a Spanish Colonial building.
2. The building is located on tiny Aviles Street, in downtown St. Augustine.
3. I started by doing an initial quick sketch and then blocked in the main shapes. I did this in about 2 minutes.
4. Then I added color – which was way too bright. That doesn’t matter – I can always dull it down later, but at this stage I just wanted to plan the main color scheme.
5. Fixed! The colors are better, but not perfect yet. Toned down. But there were still problems. I wasn’t pleased with the placement of the building, the contrasts, or the colors. I packed up and went home.
6. Back in my studio, I sat with a glass of wine and thought about what it needed. I removed the building to the left, moved the little house over, changed the colors and details, and finished the trees. Yay! Happy with the finished results!

Too Much Art

Most of my professional artist friends are overwhelmed by their growing amount of art. Even many of the highly successful artists who make a nice living and paint beautiful work suffer from an overabundance of old and unsold work. Artists hoard, stuff into closets, line hallways, 10-deep sitting against the walls in bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms. Old art, new art, multiple prints/giclees, good, and bad. A predicament.

The solution? Sell it. They try. But many artists’ finest paintings have already been shown and failed to sell.

The problem is the art market has changed. The current generation of art purchasers have grown up in the era of minimalism, Ikea, and Target. They don’t want grandma’s old Hummel collection or the china closet that held it. This is the era of living lightly, buying small homes, and owning less.

A couple of months ago, a local auctioneer told me she’s experiencing a “glut” of original art. She said that she’s getting $25 for the gorgeous paintings that had been in galleries for $4,000. I am not kidding. She said there are too many artists and too few buyers, and the result is too much art.

Is Art Dead?

Art is certainly not dead at the top of the market – the big New York auction houses are selling major pieces at unheard-of highs. And it’s still alive in the middle of the market, but now collectors want investment pieces that create a statement rather than clutter.

What Do Artists Do?

Contemporary Portraits (c) Mary Hubley
Yellow Swimsuit 8 x 10

Successful artists adapt to changing lifestyle trends and sell their best work. And they get creative with the leftovers.

Robert chooses to live in the clutter of his paintings; his estate will have to figure out how to dispose of his paintings after he dies. Emily sells old/bad pieces in garage sales for next to nothing, but wrestles with undercutting her galleries, putting bad pieces out in the market, and devaluing her art. Others donate, gift, and paint over old work.

My Personal Solution: I sell my best work through galleries or online. I keep a few. And then, gulp. I bonfire. Burn and release. Watch the smoke carry away the last sparks of one-time hopeful masterpieces. It’s a sad moment. Then I walk away. Back in the studio, clutter-free, I replace old dogs with new hopefuls.

–Mary Hubley

Small Studies – A Critical Part of the Art Process

It helps to do a quick 30-second 2″ thumbnail sketch before starting a painting. With a quick thumbnail, you can work out the composition, play around with different cropping, and indicate the lights and darks before you ever put paint on the canvas. I refer to my thumbnail sketch often as I start a new painting. It’s a plan. It keeps me grounded. And it speeds up that paint process.

A great thumbnail makes all the difference in creating a successful painting. I don’t get lost as much. It’s become a critical part of my process.

M. Hubley Thumbnail sketches
M. Hubley Thumbnail sketches

Color Studies

But I’ve found over time that I needed more than just a black and white sketch. It just wasn’t enough. I needed to include color in my initial design. Without a good color plan, my larger paintings got lost in grays and browns and mud. These setbacks could take weeks for me to muddle through. So, while I still do pencil sketches for everything, I’ve also started painting small 5×5 color studies in preparation for large-scale work. It saves loads of time, and just like the pencil sketches, they keep me on track.

My new 5 x 5″ small color studies are really full-blown mini paintings, and I’m selling them on my online gallery at Daily Paintworks.

 

 

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