Friday, August 31, 2007

Becoming a Full-Time Artist--What are the odds?

"Oreos", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I have finally settled on "Bite Me" as the name for my series of junk food paintings, in honor of the fact that there is a single bite in each. Thanks is due to my colleague Piers, who has been putting up recently with my artistic rants around the office--and has inspired me to go for a series title that reflects my general mood. I will be posting the final painting from the series this weekend--"Cherry Pop-Tart"--which will make a total of six paintings in the series. I may add a few down the road, but I want to move onto anther series this weekend.

So I have been thinking about the odds of making it as a full-time artist, and the news is not good. There are around 35,000 art majors graduating from schools around the country each year--and even if 10% are looking to become full-time artist--that makes for a lot of competition. The good news, is that most graduates give up on a career in painting pretty quickly and end up in commercial or graphic arts.

As an experiment, I have been offering my smaller paintings for sale on Ebay for the last few weeks-and each has typically been seeing around 20-25 "views" over the listing period. That is not a lot of looking (2-3 per day)--although I have ended up selling two directly. I have also had a follow up sale (thanks Cindy). So I have not drawn a lot of eyes on Ebay--but have had moderate success. Right now on Ebay, within the category "contemporary paintings", there are 26,500 paintings for sale. So there is a lot of competition out there for sales on Ebay.

So what is an artist to do? Well, first and foremost, forget about the competition--they are irrelevant to your success. Success cannot be predicted by what other people are doing--only by what you are doing. I have met a lot of painters out there talking about painting--but very few that do it everyday. Even rarer is the artist who does it everyday for a year. The rarest painter of all is the one that does it day after day for years on end. You will not meet many of these. There are too many things that can distract you...job, family, money, etc. It is thus very rare to find someone who is painting daily year after year--unless they are already making a living at it. I will re-iterate what I said in a post the other day--the most important aspect of success as a painter is good work habits. So if you are worried if you are going to succeed as an artist--keep in mind the first step is to produce regular quality work--and the rest will take care of itself. A commitment to daily work is the foundation of success.

So, as for myself, I have been feeling a bit discouraged lately--but I know it is only temporary, so I do not plan to back off one bit with my painting discipline. I have already worked around 2 hours in the studio today--and will be following up working on my web-site this evening and tomorrow. By the end of the weekend, I hope to have a good start on my next series of paintings--although I am not entirely sure what these will be just now. However, I hope it will come to me soon.

Anyway, I hope you get some good painting time this weekend. Send me some comments if you have any feedback on the blog--or ideas for a posting. I am photographing my art work this weekend, so I may do a post on how to photograph your own work. There are some ideas out there on the web--but most of these people do not seem to have ever actually photographed paintings before.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Painting to your Strengths

"Cloud Study, New Mexico", Oil on Panel, 8x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I made good progress on the "Oreos" painting this morning, but I thought I might post the above cloud study to add some variety to the postings--and to make a point. I have always enjoyed painting clouds for some reason. There are many painters who avoid them--or worse, dread them when they are painting a landscape. There are, of course, many reasons to simplify a sky when doing a landscape. For instance, a complex sky can create a distraction to the viewer if you are trying to create a focal point somewhere else in the painting. However, in most landscape paintings, at least in my experience, there is a happy median--you do not have to automatically simplify the sky in a landscape painting to make a good focal point somewhere else. Many artist do, and it is rarity to find a well painted sky these days. Perhaps, it has become too romantic to paint a sky.

As an artist, you will need to play to your strengths--and correct your weaknesses. It is like golf, if you know you are going to slice the ball every time you hit, it is best to plan for it. In painting, you will soon discover the things you do well, and those you don't. For instance, I noticed a couple of months ago that I was consistently making my shadows much too dark. When I looked back at my paintings over the last few years, I could see this was starting to be a weakness in my work. On the other hand, I saw that not only were my sky and cloud paintings the ones that sold most often, but they were the ones that I felt the most confident taking on--and enjoyed making. As a result, one of the things I have been extra careful about in my most recent series of paintings is to get some space and light into the shadow areas--and avoid the dreaded dark dead spot. At the same time, I have taken a break once in a while to do a number of cloud studies, which I have not only enjoyed, but have even sold several of them!

If you want to look out for your weaknesses--they will usually show up quickly when you start a painting. If you have been working on a painting for an hour or so, they will already be showing up. Perhaps, the darks are too dark--or they are too light. Perhaps (and this used to be a problem for me), there are only two or three tones in your painting--a dark, mid-tone, and a light, i.e., the tonal range is too narrow. You should attempt to become aware of these weaknesses early in a painting, when there is still time to correct them. If you have a strength, such as good color or tonal control--play to these strengths. For instance, if you are good at tones, but having a trouble with color--limit your palette to three colors (say, raw umber, white, and ultramarine) and see what you can do. You can make a fantastic painting with these three colors alone!

So here is the homework for the day. Go back to your last few paintings you did and see if you can identify what you don't like about them--or at least what you think you could do better. If you are having trouble finding something, find a painting that you like and put your paintings next to that one. If you like Monet, for example, put your painting next to your favorite Monet. Then, find one thing that the artist did right, that is not in your painting. Look at the quality of the painting, the color harmony, the relative values. If you are having trouble, one idea you might try is to look at both paintings in black and white--by taking a photo with a digital camera or using an electronic copy. Are the tonal relationships as good in your painting as the one you like? Are the darks too dark in yours? Is there a wide enough range of tones? See if you can find the one thing that, if you changed in your painting, it would improve the painting. Then take the next few days or weeks and work on that issue alone. In my experience, when you take on an issue on in this way and work through it--what was once a weakness can become a strength--that will be engrained in your skill set and thus come natural in your work. On the other hand, if you don't address it, it will likely come back to haunt you forever. Of course, keep in mind that most tendencies never go away entirely--only diminish.

Okay, so there you go. Hope that is useful. Get back to painting.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Do artist need good work habits?

"Snickers Bar", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

"...I have seen artists do very well with nothing more than meticulously applied work habits." Cay Lang

"Snickers Bar" is the fourth in a series of six paintings I have been working on over the last few week related to the theme of junk food. If you want to see the others, check out my previous postings or under "Gallery of Paintings" on the upper right of my blog. If you want to buy one of these paintings, check out my ebay auctions through the link provided below on the lower right. Or just type "lebo" in the search function of Ebay.

Today I want to talk a bit about artist's work habits. I have been reading several books about artists and their work habits lately, as well as two books that provide advice on how to break into the art world. This probably seems self-serving, given my "sixty minute artist" moniker, but in both cases the theme of good work habits in the studio has featured strongly. In fact, Cay Lang, in her book "Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist", says that good work habits are the most important of the three characteristics an artist must have to succeed. The others being "curiosity" and "commitment". I highly recommend her book if you are interested in good advice on how to build your career--especially if you are just starting out.

The other book I was reading on the train to work this morning is, "Inside the Art World: Conversations with Barbaralee Diamonstein". You can buy this book cheap used at various on-line stores. It is not a great book overall, but it has interview with some interesting artist. The interview with Chuck Close is good. He talks a bit about his work habits and how important it is to treat your studio like an office--working there for a solid period of time. Like a writer who has a set number of hours to be at the keyboard--you need to make the space and time to paint. Chuck speaks about his work habits, which he says are important to his success.

My own experience bears this out. Since starting this blog, not only has my painting improved, but I feel more in touch with what I am trying to accomplish as an artist--and I have made a few decent paintings in the process. I have much more optimism about where my work is leading--and I am happier. Although, I have learned that you need to be flexible when you have a family--and other commitments. For example, I have had to start getting up earlier and going to the studio before leaving for work--today I did my sixty minutes for instance starting before 7:00am. The good news is that I was able to finish the "Snickers Bar" painting and get a good start on the "Oreos" that I will be working on for the next few days. Just to give you an idea, each of these small paintings is taking me between 3-5 hours of studio time to complete.

As for "Hostess Fruit Pie", I have decided not to do that one. I put the Fruit Pie up on the still-life stand and it looked so boring I could not bring myself to start a painting of it. So, I have taken the artistic liberty of introducing "Oreos" to the series as a substitute.

So there you go, good work habits (even sixty minutes a day) can lead somewhere. The key is to get started--and make whatever progress you can on a daily basis. There is a long weekend coming up, so I think there will be a bit more time in the studio coming up. I suspect that I will finish off the "junk food" series of painting. I am thinking of naming the series "Once Bitten", in honor of the series underlying premise--which I covered in a previous post (See "Naked Junk Food"). I will also be starting a new series of paintings in coming days--so check back to see my new work.

I will close with some advice. If you are an artist, go to your studio and do a minimum of sixty minutes of painting sometime today. If you are a collector--buy a painting from an artist for which you admire their work--for instance, make a commitment to buy one painting a month in the price range of $100-300. You will be helping an artist, as well as making yourself a decent collection. If you want a suggestion on an artist, send me a note--if you do not like my work, I can send you to other artist who are doing good work out there today who deserve your attention.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Animals and their funny looks.

"Inmates", Acrylic on Panel, 8x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2005

I am going to give you a break from my "Junk Food" series, and instead am posting an older painting I did a couple of years back.

This painting is based on a photo I took in a field near my house where some cows are usually lurking about--and on this day I decided to stop and take a few pictures. It was winter, and I liked how these guys sort of stayed together in a group and looked up is a casual fashion while I snapped pictures. The contrast and reflected light was strong, and the look that cows have on their face fascinated me.

I think humans spend a lot of time wondering what their pets are thinking. If you have a dog, you will know what I mean. My wife and kids were out of town last week--so I spent a lot of time with the family dog. Animals can seem almost human sometimes, the way they look at you with their sad eyes. But, then again, they may not be thinking of anything--one never knows.

Anyway, I called this painting "Inmates" in honor of my friend Richard in New Mexico, who refers to his four horses as "the inmates". It is a sort of a term of endearment, reflecting the fact that we are taking care of animals, but it some way we are also their wardens. These guys seemed to look up an say, "Psst, help get us out of here." I've put a loose rendering of the fence in the back as a visual clue to their imprisonment--and focused on capturing the look that cows give you. Hope you like it.

Tomorrow, I hope to be able to post another from my on-going "Junk Food" series. "Snickers Bar" is almost complete.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Emotion and Painting--The making of "Red Sno-Balls"

"Red Sno-Balls", Oil on Panel, approx. 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I had promised the red Sno-Ball painting would be posted yesterday--but it was much harder than I thought. I was convinced these little red balls would be much easier to paint than Twinkies, and I think technically they are not any harder than "Fig Newtons"--so why did they take so long? Here is my theory, in sum:

The more emotional or connected you are about something, the harder it is to paint.

Let me explain. I know, it sounds strange, but these two guys were the epitome of everything I loved in my childhood--cake, creme, and marshmallow, all in a tight little package. Sure, I like Twinkies, but when I was seven years old and had a dollar in my pocket--I would ride my bike down to the store and the one junk food (beyond straight candy, which always was preferred) that I could not take my eyes off were the Sno-balls. I can take or leave Twinkies, since we sometimes had them in our lunches--and there was often a box full of them in the pantry at home. I've also never been a big fan of candy bars--so these are not a big problem for me. My mom loved fig newtons, so they were always around--nothing special. The one thing I could only get on my own, and needed my own funding to get, was the Sno-Ball. Everybody wanted these--imagine showing up at school with these babies in your lunch! The Fig Newton and Twinkie kids would turn green with envy.

Okay, your saying I am making this up. Bear with me. I must also confess I have a hard time drawing or painting my own family members--and have done only one self-portrait in my entire 20 years or more of painting. So there you have it, a bit of a confession. I admit that the more emotional or connected to something, the harder it is for me to paint it. My reasoning will make sense to you if you are an artist. Painting is about seeing objectively--and dropping all pre-conceived notions about the subject you are painting. You must be able to see it as pure color, tone, and light planes. If you think you know what you are seeing--it is the first step to disaster in painting. You must learn to drop all of what you think about an object, and only see what is actually there. I am convinced that all the master painters of the ages had this ability.

So, for Sno-Balls, I am sure the emotional connection has stymied my painting thus far. Only today have I been able to see these little balls of cake as they were. In previous session, my eyes were clouded by associated feelings and memories of what I was painting. Today, as I stepped to the easel, I resolved to look at these guys without thinking or feeling. To simply look at them as they appeared on the still life stand--not as I wanted them to be--so sweet and good and youthful. Almost immediately, the parts of the painting that I had been struggling with for several days, suddenly came quite easily and the painting came together to a nice finish.

So there you have it. Confessions of an emotional painter. A struggle to see with my eyes, and not to see what I think is there, or should be there.

The good news is that I think this bodes well for the Pop-Tarts and Snickers bar that I will do in the next few days. I do not have any overly fond associations with these. But I do worry about that Hostess Fruit Pie...which I can taste with my eyes through the wrapper. When I was young, it was the only rival to the Sno-Ball for my attentions. Will I be able to see it as it is? Browns and oranges, with a dark alizarin center--or will it become the irresistible sweet pie of my youth--clouding my vision and challenging my brush. I vow to fight--but I am sure that I will need to stay focused as I take that first bite and place it on the stand. For a painter, it is always a slippery slope: to see it, not to eat it, with your eyes.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Naked junk food--is it obscene?

" Fig Newtons", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

"Fig Newtons" is the second painting in a series I am doing on junk food. A colleague was surprised to hear that these are part of my series--mainly because he was disappointed to hear that Fig Newtons are junk food. Well, technically maybe not. But, there are a lot of calories in figs surrounded by cookie!

That got me thinking about the purpose behind this series, and why I was biting my subject matter. In fact, the whole idea started on pure instinct--but now I have had time to think about it--perhaps I can give it some words. So here is what I have come up with so far.

One of the uniting factors in all these subject matter is the juxtaposition of the outside and inside. Twinkies have creme filling, Fig Newtons have their figs, Sno-Balls have...well, no one really knows what is inside those. Just kidding--there is cream and cake. Part of biting into them is to reveal this difference in texture and try to capture that in the painting.

Second, I like the idea of something that has a bite out of it. In my mind, it introduces a human into the painting. Who bit it? Did the artist eat it? Why did they stop at only one bite? The point of the bite is to add a narrative to the painting. Food just sitting there does not interest me. It is like those old Dutch still lifes hanging in the museums around the world, where the oysters are opened up, and the dead hare is hanging on the wall. It makes one feel, prior to any thought process, that something has just happened--and also that something more might happen shortly. It is the bite.

I was surprised that yesterday's posting of "Twinkies" attracted several comments asking "Where is the wrapper?" People seem to need the wrapper to get better feel for the context. I also had a few colleagues note that they did not know what a "Twinkie" was. Well, I guess if you don't know what a "Twinkie" is, then you might not have any affinity for the painting. But, isn't that why someone who has never been to the South of France may not like a painting done there? I don't see that as a problem. I have made a choice, I guess, to only reach out to people who have actually had a Twinkie. I chose a "Twinkie" because I like them--not because of the fact that they are something anybody else is interested in eating them. Hey, anyway, this is the good ol' USA--there must be a Twinkie museum somewhere (probably more than one)--I will send them a jpeg. They will not only "get it", they are probably willing to spend vast sums of money to hang and care for it. Type "Twinkie" on ebay--and I am sure there are pages of stuff. People have heard of these things and like them.

So, if you have eaten a Fig Newton, you will know what they taste like, and may appreciate four of them stacked on top of each other. If you have ever tried to paint four stacked on top of each other at different angles, you will also appreciate how hard it is to paint them. Twinkies are easier, let me tell you. If you wonder why there is a bite out of the one sitting on top--then that is okay too. Perhaps the artist bit them, or a passerby. Perhaps a animal of some sort came by and bit them--whatever you fancy. At least something happened.

Perhaps, some would have me throw away the pop-tarts and paint the wrapper. That way, even if you don't know what a Pop-tart is, you can read the wrapper and go buy some and taste them for yourself. I can also tape the receipt to the easel, so you can see where I bought them and how much I paid. That way, in one-hundred years, when they end up on the Antiques Roadshow, the appraiser can price them properly and tell you how old the painting is. BTW, I paid $0.79 for them at 7-Eleven.

You can expect no wrappers and a single bite in all these paintings. Please bear with me--I am a temperamental artist. I cannot be talked to.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Twinkies for Sale--must have strong teeth

"Twinkies", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Last night I had a bit of free time, so I have created a gallery of the paintings that have appeared on my blog over the last few months. The link is on the right of the blog under the title "Gallery of Paintings". You can check here anytime to see new paintings that have been posted--in case you have missed any. I am also still working on my web-site, so check back in a couple weeks to see some of my larger works and works on paper.

Anyway, if you have been following my blog, you will know that two days ago I decided to start a series of paintings on the theme of junk food. I decided to start with the twinkies. I guess they looked so good to me sitting in the wrapper--who could resist. I was forced to take one bite (for art's sake)--and then had to resist temptation with them sitting there on the still life stand for two days. I finally threw them away this morning after finishing the above painting. I nearly ate them, as they were still soft after sitting out in the air for two days--boy, there must be a ton of preservatives in those twinkies!

Anyway, if you want to see the paintings that are coming, look at yesterday's post, where I put a photo of all the junk food I have in my studio. I have decided that I will post the "Twinkies" painting on ebay, so if you are hungry, and have strong teeth, feel free to place a bid. Here is a link to the auction <click here to see auction>.

The next painting I am working on will be "Red Sno-ball", which I think is the most interesting. For this series, I have decided that I will take one bite out of each pieces of junk food and then paint it. Tomorrow, I will write a bit more of the background on why I have taken this approach?

Keep painting, all the best. Sixtyminuteartist

Monday, August 20, 2007

Painting Junk Food

"Nearing Goshen", Oil on Panel, 10x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I promised to post the other painting I worked on yesterday, so here it is. If you want to learn about the color scheme behind this painting, read yesterday's post.

It is another cloudy day here, so I am thinking of moving away from landscapes and do a few still life paintings. I want to get out in the field and do some color harmony studies outdoors, but I will have to wait for next weekend.

In the meantime, I have been thinking for the last few days about doing a series of small paintings of my favorite junk foods from my childhood. I don't eat a lot of junk food anymore, for various reasons--but I still recall the joy of going into the local convenience store and buying some Sno-Balls, candy bars, or Ho-Hos. To get ready for this series of paintings, I stopped by the local gas station to buy a few things, and was surprised to find very little junk food. Maybe it is the DC area, but my local gas station was missing some of the basics--no Twinkies, hostess fruit pies, or ho-hos. I had to go to a 7-Eleven just to find my favorites.

I am starting with the basics, Twinkies, Fig Newtons, Hostess Fruit Pie (cherry), Snickers bar, and, of course, my all-time favorite item of junk food (not to eat, it just looks so great) the red Sno-Ball.

So look forward to some small still life paintings of Junk Food over the next few days. I will be following the same approach I used in my previous painting demonstration for "Yellow Cup", so you might want to go back and review those posts. I am also inspired by one of my early teachers, Lee Newman, who liked to paint unusual things. He has done a lot of etchings of children's toys and candy in the past. You can see, and buy, his work at the Washington Printmakers Gallery. He is doing a lot of etching these days, here is one I like (Newman etching at Plan B Gallery).

In the meantime, happy painting. All the best, Sixtyminuteartist.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Landscape Painting--Improving color harmony (day 3)

"Goshen Field Study #2", Oil on Panel, 7x12 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

"Bad artist copy. Great artist steal."
Pablo Picasso

Okay, it is day three of using myself as the guinea pig. Two days ago I posted the below landscape study--and set about trying to find ways to improve it. I started with taking a look at composition--and yesterday worked through of review of tones and tonal range.

Day three started with high hopes. I had promised we would look at color today, so I woke up early this morning with my paints and easel ready to go out for some field painting. Unfortunately, it was raining and cloudy. My plan had been to go out and show you how to prepared a color harmony study out in the field--but the clouds put an end to that. Not to worry, I have another approach that you may find useful. Steal them.

I should give Scott Christensen some credit for the approach I am about to describe--since he gave me the idea in his DVD where he steals a color harmony from one of his own studies and puts it in another composition. I have put a twist on this approach. My thinking was, why steal from yourself--when you can steal from someone who is a better painter? I am not talking about stealing someone elses painting or even copying something they have painted--I am talking about taking the basic color scheme from one painting and using it in your own. Let me show you what I mean.

First, you need a painting that is worth stealing from. In this case, the painting I chose is by Dennis Miller Bunker, a friend of John Singer Sargent and student of William Merritt Chase. I didn't know much about his work until I saw a painting of his at the National Museum of American Art several months ago as part of the "Masterworks from the American Art Forum Collection". The show closed at the end of July, but I managed to get a electronic picture from the Internet that is available for educational purposes.

"Pines beyond the Fence", oil on canvas, 28 ¾ x 21 ¼ inches.
Dennis Miller Bunker, 1886, Private Collection

The reason I chose this picture is that it reminds me of a hot summer day in Maryland. The foreground is very similar to the fields around my house, since we have been having a dry spell--and I like the way there is a solid color harmony throughout the painting. I can imagine going out and finding this view in my neighborhood. So let's steal the color harmony and see if it will work for our study.The first thing you need to know is what to steal. As J.F. Carlson says in his book, "Every good picture is fundamentally an arrangement of three or four large masses--a design of differing masses or large blocks of color--light, dark, and half dark or half light." So what does this mean for us? Basically, we only need to find the larger blocks of color--determine the three main variations within these blocks, and see how to adapt these to our own painting. In the case of my Goshen Field Study, I need the following: (i) light, dark, and half light of the foreground tree; (ii) light, dark, and half light of the background trees; (iii) colors of the sky and farthest tree/mountains; and (iv) light, dark, and half light of the ground plane. So let's get these from Bunker's painting.

I mentioned the other day, I just bought a HPA510 photosmart printer which prints pretty accurate colors right out of the box. So I took Bunker's painting into Photoshop on my computer and sampled (using the eye dropper tool) various points in the painting to get a sense of the color. I essentially took 10 color samples as follows: (i) highlight of the right hand pine (foreground tree) and the mid-tone; (ii) the highlight of the left hand tree (background tree) and its mid-tone; (iii) two points in the sky (high and low) and the mountain on the left (peeking through); and (iii) three points in the ground plane--foreground warm color, dark, and color farthest back as it meets the trees. I took each of the sampled colors and printed them out on my printer on a 4x6 photo paper. Here is a picture of what it looked like.

I taped these around a print out of bunkers painting in front of my easel, for easy reference. You will see the two on the right are the highlight and mid tone of the right hand tree. On the left closest to the painting are the background tree highlight and mid tone. The ground plane colors are at the bottom.

I then took around 15-20 mins. mixing each of these colors from my usual palette of Sap green, ultramarine blue, cad. red, and light yellow--plus titanium white. Here is a shot of the palette I was using for the ground plane and tree colors (I had another palette set up for the sky and mountain colors).

Once I had the colors mixed, it was time to start painting. I ended up doing two paintings from this palette. The first was a copy of my previous study in the new colors. The second was a new painting, which I will post tomorrow.

So can using "borrowed" color harmonies improve you painting. You be the judge, here is the previous study and new painting side-by side.

Here is where we left it yesterday.

And here it is with the new color harmony, thanks to Dennis Miller Bunker.

What do you think? Send me your comments. I will post the other painting I did from this palette tomorrow--which I think turned out even better--since I was not constrained by my previous study and was able to play with the composition a bit.

Until then, all the best. Sixtyminuteartist.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Landscape Painting--how to use technology to improve your painting (Day Two)

"Goshen Field Study", Oil on Panel, 12x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Okay, it is day two of using myself as the guinea pig. Yesterday I posted the above landscape study--and set about trying to find ways to improve it. I started yesterday with taking a look at composition. Computers are great for checking alternative compositional layouts. You can crop, move things around, etc. Checking various croppings is the easiest thing to do, anyone can do it with a basic picture editing program.

So let's quickly review the lesson from yesterday--and get going on the next issue to cover--tonal control. Yesterday, I realized two things. First, one problem with this painting is the large amout of foreground space, which fights against the basic composition--which is a "grouped mass" layout (see yesterday's posting to see what this means). Another problem is the perspective. If you look at the trees, they are basically drawn so that the viewer is looking up at them (you can't see the tops). Which is counter-intuitive to having the horizon line (the meeting of the ground plane and the sky) high in the painting. The higher the horizon line, the more the viewer feels he is above the subject looking down. I always suggest (a suggestion which I did not follow) that you should put your horizon line(s) immediately down when you start a landscape painting--as it establishes your perspective lines. If the horizon line is low, the the viewer is likely to feel that he is looking up in the painting and your perspective should be adjusted accordingly. If the horizon line is set high, the viewer will feel like he is a bit above the ground plane--assuming there is not a hill right in front of him/her--and you need to adjust again.

So here is where we are starting today.

Okay, enough said. I have cropped the painting to correct a perspective problem and to improve the composition. Now I want to check the tones. So how do I do this? Most photo editing program have a way to adjust color. Look under this part of your editing software for a way to adjust the "saturation". Sometimes, as in photoshop, there is a option to "desaturate"--in other programs it there is a way to adjust the saturation slowly. In any case, you want to completely desaturate, so set saturation to zero. Here is what my study looks like desaturated.

Not bad--at least I got some things right. If you have read my postings in the past, I highly recommend you read John F. Carlson's book, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. The book is a bit out of date, but it sets out a lot of basic principles for landscape painting. I took my copy on the train to work this morning and read it for the 5oth time--and I still learned something.

Without going into details, Carlson notes that the tonal relationships between the major parts of landscape are relatively consistent. Putting aside the highlights and accents, the core tone of the uprights, as he calls them (trees, bushes, etc.), should always be the darkest,. This is due to the fact that the angle of the light from the sun will always be such as illuminate the other parts of the landscape more. The sky, for reasons he explains in his book, will always be the highest tone, while the ground plane will be next. Finally, the slanted planes, such as mountains, hills, rocks, etc, will be the lighter than the uprights--but darker than both the sky and ground plane, as these are recieving light at an angle higher than the ground plane. Of course, if this wasn't hard enough, you also have to remember that as things recede into the background they will get lighter. If you look at my "desaturated" landscape, these basic relationships are correct--more or less.

So the next thing I want to check is the tonal range. That is the range from the highest tone to the lowest. Most photo programs allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and sometimes the midtones of a photo. I have a little trick I use, which is to first desaturate the photo, so you do not mistake tone for color. Once you have your tonal range correct, you can always put the color back into the photo. This works for paintings as well. I take the desasturated version of my painting, adjust the tones until I am happy--and record the settings. Then, here is the trick, go back to the orginal phote before it was destaturated and use the setting from the black and white version that worked best. Here is how I applied that here

First I adjusted the brightness, contrast, and mid-tone range until I felt the the tones were more in line with what I was after--and gave the painting a sense of both space and "air". Note: if you tonal relationships are wrong--this will not work. But, since I had roughly gotten these correct in my study--I could go to this step.

So here is the study, I have upped the contrast and brightness, and lowered the mid-tones. By my eyes, the painting is better.

And here is what it looks like with the color put back in:

So what do you think? Is this a better study than the one I started with. I do. This version has a lot of new information to paint from in the studio, and having it around will help me from making the same mistakes as in the first study. I could at this point prepare a new panel in the same proportions as the above picture, and go back into the studio to do another study. If I simply took the time to mix the colors and tones in the above painting before starting and try to maintain them while painting--I promise you it would result in a better painting than the initial study. However, I am still not happy. I still think I can do better. I have fixed the composition, and improved the tonal relationships. But what about color? I still think the colors are off--I get the sense that there is a lack of harmony in the painting. But what to do? Stay tuned--I will cover that in the next post.

In the meantime, good painting. All the best, Sixtyminuteartist.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Landscape composition--using your computer to experiment

"Goshen Field Study", Oil on Panel, 12x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

"The most important ally in the study of painting is the art of thinking." Edgar Payne

A few days ago I promised to post some recent landscape work from Maryland, so I am posting the above study. I am not happy with it and will continue working on it, but I am posting it to make some points about landscape composition, as well as how to use technology to speed up the painting process. I am a firm believer that you should use all the tools around you to speed up the painting process--including technology. In the past, if you wanted to work out a painting problem, you might do 10-20 studies just to solve a problem. I am going to show you have to do it much faster over the next few posts.

Background. I did the above field study last night based on some photographs of the area around my house, which I took last weekend early in the morning. It took me a few days to get started painting, mainly because my eyes have had to get used to the scenery changes since leaving New Mexico. I have been doing a lot of looking around to get my bearings back--mainly looking at the color changes and how the trees, ground, and other things look in Maryland. I don't get to paint outside too often, so it important to observe what is out there when I can. Photographs greatly distort tone, colors, and contrast, so you need to look all you can when you are outside so your paintings do not look like photos when you paint in the studio. You need to do a lot of outside painting before you know what to look for, so if you are a beginner--I do not recommend running to the studio off the bat--paint outdoors as much as possible instead.

My objective in this study was to try to capture the sense of the morning light of a summer morning--and the colors of the fields and farms around my house. We are having a dry spell here in DC, so the ground is moving into a yellow-orange color--more like the early fall. While I don't consider the study a complete failure--when I finished it last night (in about an hour), I was not happy. The problem was I didn't quite know why. Was it the sky? The colors? The composition? I wasn't sure. Maybe all of the above.

Over the next few posts I will take you through my process for finding out how to improve the study--with the objective of mainly showing you how to work through painting problems as quickly as possible--and to use the technology around you to help, where it can.

So let's get started. The first thing I usually consider when a painting is not working is composition. Is it a good composition--can it be improved? So I took my handy copy of Edgar Payne's book with me on the train to work this morning and went through it. I noticed immediately that the one thing I was trying to do in this painting, was probably the wrong thing to do with a square format (10x12)--that is, to use what Payne calls the "grouped mass" composition. I like using a grouped mass format as a composition--because it is similar to still life painting, where you are painting a single object and the background is the backgound. This is the easiest type of landscape composition to use--and since I was getting started, using a the simpliest composition made sense. You see that the main point of interest is a single mass of grouped trees on the left hand side of the panel. This is not a bad choice, per se, but as Payne's book makes evident, this approach is typically employed where there is a much lower horizon line and where the ratios of width to height are much higher (more of a landscape than portrait layout). The desired effect is what he calls the "ell" or "rectangle" composition.

Fortunately, and with a quick trip to the studio in the morning--I had a photo of my painting on my memory stick--so I simply cropped it more along the lines that Payne suggests..and viola! In my mind, this is a much better composition, what was I thinking?!?

So one problem is solved, but can I do better? The answer is surely yes--there is a lot more wrong with this painting than just the composition. But, let me leave that until tomorrow--where I will take you through how to adjust the tones, colors, and even the design of this painting all using your computer. The objective is not to make a new painting, but to be better prepared next time you are in the studio to get your ideas out more effectively. Why do 10-20 studies, when you can move along more quickly just by experimenting up front on the computer.

And, just to let you know where I am headed, here is a glimpse of what I am starting out for as a starting point in the studio tonight--which is a much more along the lines of what I wanted when I started the previous study last night.

I will post the next study shortly. Stay tuned. Sixtyminuteartist

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How to Write an Artist Statement

"Desert Sky", Oil On Panel, 8.5x18 inches
Jerry Lebo, 1996

Here is a golden oldie. The above painting was the one I put on the announcement for my first solo show back in 1996. I put it up to remind myself how far I have come--and how far I can still go. My friend Mitchell once told me to save everything, one day it will be useful and remind you of how far you have come. He was right.

So, I have decided to work on my website this week--which has turned out to be a lot more work than I expected. It is a real challenge deciding what to put on it. Which paintings, how to organize it, etc.

One of the things I wanted to add to my web-site was an "Artist Statement". I don't know why, there is no requirement that an artist have a statement, but I thought it might be a way to convey to people why I paint. And, I might need one for my next upcoming solo show (ha, ha).

Of course, as soon as I wanted to post my artist statement on-line is when I realized that I had never really written an artist statement. Sure, I've rattled off a few lines for my previous art shows. But, I never really gave it much thought. I just wanted to get it done. I didn't want to do the same this time, so I decided this time to really try to write an artist statement. That is when I found out that it is not as easy as it sounds. Especially for the literary impaired like myself. So, I thought I would let you know what I learned and how you might go about it, if you ever get the inkling. I also posted the artist statement that I came up with at the bottom.

Lesson One: Be Brief
An artist statement does not have to be long. In fact, the shorter the better. Three paragraphs of 3-4 lines is plenty. If needed, you can start with a long version of your artist statement and edit it down later--but the final version should be able to be read in around one minute (or less).

Lesson Two: Be Honest

The last thing people want to read is art speak, a lot of blah, blah, or things that you think they want to hear. If you artist statement is going to work--it must be honest about where you are at, why you do what you do, and what your art is about. Keep it simple and straight-forward. In structuring what you are saying, move from the general to the more specific. For example, start with a general statement of why you paint, and then tell the reader more about how you do it later. If you want to be specific about what you are working on at the moment, it is probably best to leave that to last.

Lesson Three: Take your time

Working on your artist statement is going to be harder than actually making art. Be prepared to spend some time. I found it useful to jot down a lot of short notes about what I wanted to say throughout the day--and then try to organize them later. Post-it notes are great. Write a line down on them and post them around your studio--you can collect them at then end of the day and summarize them later. Another idea is to imagine you are being interviewed and being asked some basic questions about your work. For example, what is your favorite material or medium, what do you like best about what you do, how work, when--what have you learned lately? Write down your answers and see if you can bring them together into a statement of some sort later.

Lesson Four: Make it Personal
Never speak in the third-person. It turns people off. Use the personal tense in your writing--for example, say, "My", or "I". Do not say "the artist" or speak about yourself in the third person. This is your statement, and people what to hear something personal. In fact, I think the most important trait of an artist statement is that it is honest and comes from your heart.

Lesson Five: Get help, if you need it

I found a lot of useful information on the Internet about how to go about writing an artist statement, and even some examples. There is no set way to write a artist statement, so don't feel you have to follow an example--but I found the ideas contain in some of the examples useful as a guide. Here are some links to get you started:

Anyway, here is my artist statement as of today:

Artist Statement, Jerry Lebo
The process of transforming paint and other materials into images continues to compel and challenge me. Over the years, that process has led me from drawing, etching, and painting, and most recently to pursue experimental processes on paper. Painting fills me with a sense of well-being and humility, and has proven to be a satisfying way for me to translate my visual ideas into a physical reality.

I paint both what I see and what I feel—focusing on the sensation and context of my experience. I work deliberately, employing both traditional and innovative techniques, while letting the uncertain nature of painting free my hand. My paintings are finished when they are able to convey a moment or sensation of where I am, as well as what I am seeing.

August 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Franz Bader Bookshop to Close

"Sweet Mates", Oil on Linen, 8x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Now that it is generally known, I can now vent my sadness about the closing of the Franz Bader Bookshop on Eye Street in Washington DC. I have known it was due to close for some time, but promised the owner, Sabine, that I would not tell anyone until it was official. The reason for closing at this particular time is rising rents (their rent went up to $7000/month) and to spend more time with family--and hopefully enjoy a bit of retirement.

For those of you who do not know the Franz Bader bookshop, it has been an icon of the Washington DC book scene for forty years, specializing in art, design, and architecture books. I can safely say that most of my art book collection was purchased there over the years--and it will be a great loss when it closes October 31, 2007. I hear that there is going to be a clearance sale sometime in September, so stay tuned.

If you want to get by the shop before it closes, here is a map and other links. Tell Sabine that Jerry sent you.

Related Links:

Franz Bader Fund
Review of FB bookstore (Yelp)

All the best. Sixtyminuteartist

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Top Ten Reasons for an Artist to Live in Santa Fe

"Evening Clouds", Oil on Panel, 9x7 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2006

We arrived back in Washington DC late yesterday, so I thought I'd end my postings with a top ten list--and a cloud painting from our last trip in 2006. So here it goes, my list of the top ten reasons for artists to move to Santa Fe....

Number 10: Lots of art galleries
Number 9: Tourists with lots of money--who buy paintings
Number 8: Good weather
Number 7: Friendly people
Number 6: Big artist community
Number 5: Green Chile (and red sometimes)
Number 4: Mountain views
Number 3: Proximity to lots of interesting places to paint
Number 2: The smell of the Pinon trees after the rain

and the Number 1 reason to move to Santa Fe if you are an artist...


So there you go. Hope you enjoyed my postings from Santa Fe, I am in the process of getting my studio set up for some Maryland and DC painting--which I hope to be able to give you a sample of in the next few days. All the best. Sixtyminuteartist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Painting in Morning Light

"On the Edge", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Today was my last day of painting in Santa Fe, so I thought I'd post one of the landscape studies I have been working on this week. Every morning we take a 30 minute walk around the area we are staying and most of the time we end up walking through the arroyo (sort of a drainage area--for those of you not familiar with the west). I have several times noticed how these pinon and juniper trees seem to cling to the top edges of the arroyo--slowly being pulled into the abyss. After a heavy rain you can sometimes find the losers at the bottom of the arroyo, as the steady force of erosion takes away their last piece of earth. This guy was still holding on--so I thought I'd do a painting of his plight.

You may notice that the basic color scheme of the earth and sky in this painting is a pinkish orange and soft blue hue. This is typical of the morning light in Santa Fe--and is quite different from the evening light. Which brings me to the point of today's posting, which is dealing with the difference between morning and evening light.

The first thing a plein air painter learns when painting outdoors is not to start a painting in the morning at one location and expect to come back in the evening to finish it. You will have to wait until the next morning to work on it again. Why? First, the light in the evening will be coming from the opposite side of the morning. Which means that in the above painting, instead of being cross lighted from the right, it would have changed to a cross light from the left--and slightly behind. It would be a totally different painting.

The second issue to keep in mind is that evening light is coming at a different angle than morning light. The result is that the colors you would observe in the same spot would differ significantly. To use Santa Fe as an example, the morning sky and ground tend to be on the pinkish and pale blue side. In the evening, the ground/earth is much more reddish and darker tone, and the sky a darker richer blue which tends towards a greenish tint.

I have always enjoyed painting mostly in the morning. The light is so mellow and receptive to a harmonious palette. The air is cool, and the hopes of the day are still at hand. Give me a good cup of coffee and a clear morning light and I could paint for hours.

I will miss Santa Fe, as I always do when I leave. But, there are more painting thrills and spills to be had back home in Washington. I am looking forward to some late summer and fall painting, and will keep you posted of the results. In the meantime, keep on painting--and feel free to send comments on topics or issues you would like to see discussed in my blog.

All the best. Sixtyminuteartist.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Painting the Unusual

"Mexican Sun", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

We are going to leave Santa Fe in a few days and I was thinking about some of the unique things that you only find in Santa Fe--and trying to paint a few of them. For those of you who have been to Santa Fe, you will know what I mean--this place has its own style. As a painter, you can use this to your advantage--and find subject matter that really speaks of the place.

It strikes me as ironic that most of the things you find in Santa Fe are made elsewhere, in Mexico, Africa, Central/South America, and other places. Everywhere you go you see imported goods--just like the people.

Anyway, I was walking around and saw this clay sun hanging on a wall-and thought it was strange to think that these things are hanging all around Santa Fe--they are so common you would think that they are made here. In fact, they are all brought up from Mexico. Isn't it strange that in sunny New Mexico they have to import their suns from Mexico? In thinking about a possible painting, one of the things I liked about these guys is how they all have the same face, but in some way have their own unique quirkiness as well. They are like little cartoon characters hanging around the walls of Santa Fe.

So there you go, an instant painting. I took a quick photo and printed in color and B&W. If you saw my demonstration of how to develop a painting using a monochromatic underpainting then you will be ready to paint a "Mexican Sun" yourself. The painting looks pretty simple, but it is a difficult painting to pull off. You need to pay careful attention to which details to include and which to ignore. It is definitely a painting where you need to focus on what is essential to make the image and sensation of what you are seeing.

I hope I did it justice, but you be the judge. Would you hang this happy little guy on your wall?

Anyway, keep up your painting. Tomorrow will probably be my last post from Santa Fe before coming back to Washington--so expect a landscape painting to close things out. All the best, sixtyminuteartist

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Where to Rent DVDs on Painting

"Floater", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I am largely a self-taught artist. However, I have been lucky early-on in my career to have a few mentors who I continue to learn from even today. When I was starting out twenty years back, I studied at the Washington Studio School under various teachers--including my friends Lee Newman and Jack Boul--which was a great experience. In the end, however, I think all artist have to find their own way in the art world--which means developing their own voice and tendencies as an artist. This is a long process, which I think never ends. But early instruction can go a long way to set you off in the right direction.

I was thinking the other day that many artist do not have access to instructors or mentors. There are a lot of resources on-line for artist, but nothing beats live instruction. If you are looking for some live instruction, but do not have access to a school or other artist, one alternative is to rent DVDs on painting. Ten years ago there were not a lot of good DVDs (or tapes) on painting, but the situation has changed. Over the last year or so, I have rented or bought several DVDs that I can recommend.

First, the best place I have found to rent DVDs is They have a large selection of painting related DVDs to rent. I do have one complaint about their company, and that is the prices--which I think are a bit high. For instance, if you are renting a two DVD set (or more) then you are charged for each DVD. It can get expensive. But, they have a good selection and it is worth checking out.

In a previous post I recommended a couple of DVDs that are worth renting. Two are from Scott Christensen (1 and 2) and one from Matt Smith. You may like these, but there are a lot more to chose from at Smartflix. Something for everybody. They are also having a contest in August for artist. If you submit your artwork with a short background note, you could win free DVD rentals and a chance for exposure on their Blog. Worth checking out--I may send something later this month.

Well, that's it for today. Keep painting. sixtyminuteartist

Friday, August 3, 2007

Selling Paintings on Ebay

"Just off the Vine", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Well I finally took the plunge a couple of days ago and posted some paintings on Ebay. I had been thinking about trying Ebay to sell a couple of small paintings since I started this blog, but was planning to wait until the time was right--not really knowing when that would be. The impetus to actually try Ebay was an email they sent me which allowed new Ebay sellers to post up to three items with the insertion fees waived--which saves a bit of money. That was all it took--I jumped. So last weekend, I post a painting--and then two more later. I decided to set the price relatively low, $99 with a 14 day guarantee for refunds. This is around half to one-third of what I would offer these paintings in a gallery or to a private party--and around what I had been reading was a good starting point.

So what happened? Well, in a nutshell, it is four days into the auctions and I have received a total of no bids. Although, I can't say that I am not surprised. So let me take you through some ideas I have been having that might let you avoid the same fate and me--Ebay nowhereville.

The first thing I would recommend you do before you try to sell on Ebay is to do some research. There are a lot of articles on the internet about how to sell your paintings on Ebay. I think one of the most useful I read was an interview with Duane Keiser in USAToday and his subsequent interview on In both articles, the key message is that artist need to take responsibility for promoting and managing their own art careers. In that context, Duane recommends not selling on Ebay until you have amassed a certain interest in your art--otherwise you may have no bidders. Good advice, hard to take.

Anyway, I suspect these paintings are not going to sell for the same reason Duane cites--lack of interest. When only a dozen or so people view your auction--it is hard to garner interest.

I am not giving up and will continue to paint and look for new outlets. I have been painting for twenty years and have sold plenty of paintings--just not any on Ebay yet. I will keep you informed on my progress.

In the meantime, if you are interesting in getting a couple of small paintings at wholesale prices, check these out:

"Yellow Cup", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches, Jerry Lebo, 2007
click here to bid

"Crushed Styrofoam Cup", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches, Jerry Lebo, 2007

"Above Tesuque", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches, Jerry Lebo, 2007
click here to bid

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Painting is Location, Location, Location

"Above Tesuque", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I haven't posted in a few days, but I was thinking today of the importance of location to painting. I did the above painting yesterday, which is the type of painting that you would never get away with if you were painting on the East Coast of the US--the clouds just don't look that way. That is a problem with landscape painting in certain places, such as where I am today--Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you paint an landscape in New Mexico and try to sell it in Washington DC--is anybody going to buy it? This led me to think about three things artist spend a lot of time and thinking about...location, location, location, in other words: (i) where to paint; (ii) where to sell; and (iii) where to live.

Most of us are stuck were we need to live for work, or were located by birth. Which is not a bad thing. I have been to 25-30 countries in my travels over the years, and I am convinced that you can paint right were you are, as well as anyplace else. So my personal opinion on the first question, which is "where to paint" is most definitely "right where you are." Don't sit around thinking that where you are living is uninteresting, or wishing you could move to New York or Santa Fe--or Northern California so you could paint. My advice is get out your paints and go outside and start painting. If you don't have time, or it is too hot (or dark outside), go to your studio and paint still life or from photos. If you are stuck at work, find a way to paint at lunchtime or before or after work (In the next few weeks I am going to send you a post about how to paint at the office or work). My experience is that, with a little creativity, painting can be done just about anywhere. An hour a day is the key to progress.

Now let's me move to the second aspect of location, which is "where to sell". The answer to this question is a bit trickier. As I said above, will a landscape painted in New Mexico look good in a gallery in Washington DC? My experience is that galleries in DC are not interested in western landscapes. Although, galleries in California might be. Thus, part of the answer of where to sell your paintings depends on where you paint. My experience is that every region of the US appeals to a certain market. On top of the regional aspect of painting, there are also venues where particular genres of painting sell best. For instance, paintings of cowboys and indians sell best in Texas and Oklahoma--and they sell a lot of them around there. So, instead of thinking about what to paint, so your work fits into the galleries in your area, my advice is paint what you love and then find the outlet later. Thus, the answer as to "where to sell" depends first on what you love to paint. If you are a painter of western landscapes who lives in New York, you may need to travel a bit to find your audience--but you can be sure there is one out there waiting for your work.
The answer to the last question, "where to live" is the most difficult and personal. In fact, I think that there is not much other people can tell you about where you should live, as it is such a personal choice. Suffice it to say, if you fell alive and passionate about where you live--you are probably in the right place.
Anyway, just some thoughts for your consideration. Keep on painting--the world needs art. More later. Sixtyminuteartist