Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Make a Painting from a Drawing

"Thanksgiving View (Study)", Oil on Panel, 8x8 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

The fall colors in Maryland are nearly gone, but I managed to get out and take some pictures just before the Thanksgiving weekend. I had the feeling that the leaves would be off the trees soon and on Thanksgiving Day a cold front came through with wind gusts up to 50-60 mph. Needless to say, most of the remaining leaves blew off the trees, so I am glad I got out in time to get some pictures of the red and yellows of the fall. The above painting is based on some of the photos I took around a creek near my house. I have been thinking about making some larger paintings, and this little study will be good reference material for a possible future large painting. My plan is to do some of these smaller studies—and then pick the best ones to make into larger paintings over the winter.

You may also have noticed that I have not posted for nearly a week. I have been a bit busy at work these days, and I have been working on this particular post for most of this week. I also have had two new students sign up for lessons, which got me thinking of what a challenge it is to teach art. I mean, how does one get ideas across in a way that students can learn quickly--things that have taken me 20 years to learn? Most of the ideas I want to relate to my students, I have talked about in my blog, values, color harmony, drawing, etc. However, it is one thing to say it in my blog—or even during a lesson—while it is entirely another for somebody to be able to take it forward in their own work.

With this in mind, I spent my studio time this week working through a demonstration painting covering some of the key issues I have been talking about in my blog. The idea comes from an exercise that I assigned to one of my students, that is, to start with a drawing and take it through to a painting. In executing the assignment, my instructions were basically to copy the tones in the drawings into the painting—introducing color/value combinations that are consistent with those of the drawing. This particular student said she has good drawing skills, so I put her to the challenge. I always remember hearing my former teachers, “Painting is drawing with color.” It has taken me 20 years to figure out what this meant—and I hope you will understand a bit of what this means by the time you finish reading this post.

So let me start by giving you an overview of where I am going. The student I mentioned liked to paint animals—and she had done a few paintings of geese and other animals. She showed me a few painters that she admired—and I tried to talk her through some ideas on how she might move her work in the direction she was thinking. After taking a look at her work and discussing ideas, it was clear to me that she needed to work on her sense of value, color harmony, and focal point. That is a big agenda, so where to start. I decided I would start her off with a simple exercise as follows. The basic approach is to find a drawing or picture where you feel comfortable that you can identify the values--and using you normal drawing materials--make a thumbnail or small sketch of the subject. At this stage, you want to pay particular attention to the values you are seeing. From that drawing--or other source material--the next step is to mix colors equivalent to those values and make the same sketch--only this time using paint. To make it easier, let me summarize the process into three practical steps:

1. Make a Value Scale. Make a value scale on a piece of paper or canvas using your drawing materials. The scale should have your darkest value at one end (black, or slightly lighter), and your lightest at the other end (white, or white with a very slight warm tone).

2. Draw your Subject. Make a drawing from a photo or life (or even from a drawing you find in a book) focusing only on trying to get the right values in the right place. For instance, draw the outline of your subject--focusing on the gesture--then find the various values in your picture and make the same shape/value marks in your own drawing. If you are a beginner, it is often easiest to draw from either a photocopy of a photo (so that it is only in black and white) or to use another artist's drawing. Refer to your value scale often for comparison. You want to choose source material that has clear tonal relationships--especially if you are a beginner.

3. Paint using the same Value/Shape Relationships. Once you have a drawing complete—mixed the equivalent values in paint, and either make the same drawing again using paint on canvas—or go over the drawing you have made (you can put shellac over it if it is on paper) and “draw with paint”. That is, put the paint down in the same shape/value combinations as the drawing.

Okay, got it? Simple, right? Well, let me make myself the guinea pig--and show you a demonstration of this approach (which took me around a total of 4 hours to complete in the studio):

1. Make a Value Scale. This can be done with any drawing materials, but to make it easier to execute--I am going to show you a very straightforward way to get your values down correctly. I went out and bought monochromatic pencils made by Prismacolor. They make a “French Grey”, "Cool Grey", and “Warm Grey” pencil set that is basically grey values. So, I bought one black and one white pencil—and then the five intervening monochromatic tints of the French Grey series: French Grey 10%, French Grey 30%, French Grey 50%, French Grey 70%, and French Grey 90%. That makes seven values--what I would call two accents (black and white--which should be used sparingly) and five evenly spaced values. Prismacolor makes the equivalent in warm and cool grey, so there are three possible color schemes to use for such an exercise. Here is what they look like:

2. Choose a Subject. In this case, I didn’t want to copy my students work--who wanted to paint a rabbit--so I chose a cow (calf), for which I had some reference pictures and drawings of in my files. I started by putting a value scale across the bottom of my drawing. I find this very helpful to help me to see relative values. Try it sometime, it is a simple way to improve your drawings immediately--you can use it to compare your values as you draw. You can see by the value scale below that the panel color is about the same as my third from highest value. I started drawing with my next to darkest pencil--not my darkest--which will allow me to go lower in value later in the drawing. You could use a high value--but I don't recommend it. In this first stage of drawing, I was mainly paying attention to the silhouette of you subject and try to get the gesture correct. I was erasing, and redrawing for around 15 minutes--and this is where I stopped this first phase.

Next, I started by filling in the shape/tones that I saw in my reference material. I essentially took each of my pencil values--and looked for the same value in my picture and then put that down where I saw it in my silhouette. I started with my darkest value and worked up. Here is what it looked like after I put my darkest value/shapes into the drawing.

I proceeded this way for around 30 more minutes, erasing, drawing shapes, changing values. I tried to find distinct shapes and then put the value down in the same shape and value I was seeing. Here is where I stopped with the drawing--and felt it was time to start painting. I basically felt like I had enough information down to get a good start on the painting--and to demonstrate the next phase.

2. Mixing the Equivalent Values in Paint. Before I started to paint, I took the time to mix a full set of values equivalent to the pencils I was using. If you have problems mixing these values/colors--many artist's paints come in premix tints. If you buy black, white, and three pre-mixed values--you can mix the intervening values from these. In any case, I have had a lot of practice mixing paint, so this took less than five minutes to mix the below set of equivalents. where I was uncertain about the value--I would simply compare and adjust against the scale at the bottom of my painting.

I started with the darkest two values--keeping my brush clean between value changes. Here is what it looked like after a couple of minutes. I am using a #5 Bright brush, and you can see that I am trying to put down the shape and value at the same time.

Another five minutes later this is what it looked like--as I moved to the lighter values.

And here it is after about 15 minutes--you can see I am starting to put the background down. I am also starting to lose some of the strong shapes and value relationships--so I am going to have to go back and correct some of those. This is a very important thing to remember--you must be always look and be ready to change what is not right in your painting. If the values or shape is not right--scrap off the paint and change it. As soon as you start to feel there is something in your painting that you do not want to change--or are not willing to change--then you are in trouble.

I worked on this painting for maybe around another 20 minutes--and this is where I ended up.

And here is the painting at the end of the first session--after around 1-2 hours of total work--including drawing, mixing, and painting.

The next morning I got up and went into the studio and hated what I had on the panel. It is not bad, but it was not what I was after at all. I really wanted to get the sense of that awkwardness of a newborn calf--and this was not it. It was too much like a cow. So, what did I do? What all artist should do when they are not satisfied. Start again. So I scrapped off the entire painting--and decided I would start again that evening. Here it the panel scrapped down--which leaves a "ghost image" to start from the next day. Many of my best paintings have been made after scrapping off a painting that was not going well--you should not be afraid to do it.

That evening, I came back to the painting and starting again by mixing each of my values to match my value scale--and started painting in value shape combinations in my drawing. I painted for around 1-1.5 hours and stopped when I thought I had the sensation that I was looking for--the feeling of looking at a newborn baby cow. And here it is:

"Baby Calf (monochromatic study)", Oil on Panel, 8x8 inches

So there it is, a short painting lesson in how to go from a drawing (a not very good one at that), to a painting. I have always said that if it doesn't look good in black and white, it will not look good in color. I hope you can see what I mean from the above example. This is a monochromatic painting--and of course it would be more compelling in color--but would it be more convincing?

So here are few things to keep in mind:

1. Make bold decisions. Pick a shape and a value and put it down.

2. Don't be afraid to change something on the painting--painting is the process of conviction, evaluation, adjustment, re-conviction, and adjustment. It is a constant process of adjusting what you see on the painting--versus your subject. Fight for the image.

3. Keep your brush and values clean. If you are not cleaning your brush properly during the painting process, your values will change and your painting will lose its solidity. Clean your brush with thinner and dry it between every value change.

4. Focus on Value Changes. Look hard at what you are painting--and focus on where you see the values change. Make the same value changes in your painting.

Hope you enjoyed this mini-lesson. Go to your studio and try it out.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How to Stretch an Art Canvas

"Nearing Utah", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I did a post a couple of weeks ago titled, "How to Make an Inexpensive Frame for your Paintings" which turned out to be popular. It was noted by The Artist's Magazine's blog, so a lot of people tuned in to that post. It seems that everyone appreciates a good DIY post, so to make it easier in the future, I have put a listing of my DIY posts on the right-hand side of my blog under the title "Do It Yourself".

Given all the DIY euphoria, I decided to do a post about how to stretch an art canvas. Yeah, I know what you're thinking--doesn't everyone already know how to do that? Well, I think you'd be surprised how many people don't. I remember teaching people how to stretch canvas when I was at the Washington Studio School and Holton-Arms School (where I was the visiting artist back in the 1990s and my friend Lee Newman still teaches). It is the type of thing everyone assumes every else knows, so no one takes the time to teach it. In my experience, even people who are painting regularly don't necessarily know how to stretch a canvas. I see a lot of people going into the art store and buying ready made canvases. I guess it is like frame-making and panels, why do it yourself when you can buy it at the store ready made?

In my mind, there are good reasons to learn how to stretch your own canvas. First, if you are traveling, stretching canvas can save you a lot of weight. You can take a mix of various stretcher bars and a roll of primed canvas or linen--and when you are done painting--simply un-stretch your paintings, roll them up, and take them home. You can even ship the bars and leftover canvas back home through the mail if you get in a bind. Try carrying 20 large panels on an airplane or in your luggage--panels are heavy--and they are cumbersome. The other reason to learn how to stretch canvas is that it is a quick and easy way to have something to paint on--in any size you want.

All said, in my experience, the most important reason to learn how to stretch a canvas is to save storage space in your studio. The method I am going to show you also allows you to un-stretch and store your paintings flat or rolled once they are dry. You can't do that with the pre-stretched store bought canvas--since they don't have enough overlapping canvas to re-stretch them once you take them off the stretcher bars. Also the quality of the pre-made canvas generally is not good--and they are typcially not very tightly stretched.

So let's get started. Here is what you need--some canvas or linen, stretcher bars, a tape measure, canvas pliers, something to mark with (pencil?) and a staple gun. I prefer the standard JT-21 staple gun, which is what they sell at art stores and some hardware stores. You don't want to get a staple gun that is too big or strong--since the staples will either not penetrate well or will be too big and possible weaken the canvas.

The first step is to put the stretcher bars firmly together. If they don't go together easily, use can a hard surface so as to have something to press hard down upon. Some people like to use a door jab to assist and keep the corners square--however, just because you use a door jab--doesn't mean they will be square--so you need to measure as well.

The corners should fit tight, like below, when all the bars are together.

Once you have all the bars tightly together, the next step is to make sure they are perfectly squared up. This is a two step process. The first step is to make sure the distance vertically and horizontally between the bars is consistent. Since you are usually not stretching a square canvas, this means the distance across each paired side should be equal. To check, measure the distance across one side at two points near the corners of each stretcher bars. I have used two measuring devices in the picture below to demonstrate where to measure, but you will only need one. The distance at two points near the corners--around where I have place the measures in the below picture, should be the same. If not, adjust the stretcher bars by pulling the appropriate end until the distances are equal. Repeat this process across the other pair of bars.

Once you have sides consistent, the next step is to make sure the stretcher bars are squared--that is, at 90 degree angles. The way to do this is to get the diagonal distance to be the same across corners (assuming the first step was done correctly). As per the below picture, measure the distance corner to corner across one side, then the other.

If the distances are not equal, the easiest way I have found to get them equalized is to place the frame on a firm surface and push the top stretcher bar sideways (not downwards) in the direction of the shorter side. For example, if the measurement from the left hand corner to the bottom right is shorter--push the top bar towards left. It doesn't take much of a change in the sideways direction to make a big change in the diagonal measure--so don't over compensate. If the difference in distance is less than an half inch, for example, a slight tweak to the left should be enough.

Okay, so if you have the stretcher bars squared up and equal distances apart--the next step is to fix them together so they don't shift while stretching the canvas. To do this, I put three staples across each of the four corner joins as in the below picture.

The next step is to mark out your canvas piece. I like to use a stretcher bar to do this. For some reason, the width of a stretcher bar is just the right size for the extra canvas you will need to ensure a tight stretch and to un-stretch and re-stretch the canvas later. The first step is to square up the frame to a straight edge of the canvas. In this case, I have used the lower edge, which I know is straight. Then I have placed the bar on the right side, to make the first line.

Once you have all four sides marked, you can go ahead an cut out the canvas.

Place the canvas face down on a clean surface and put the stretcher frame on the canvas. Make sure the side on which you have stapled the corners is facing up (towards what will be the back of the final canvas). To help center the frame, you can use a stretcher bar along one edge to guide you. Once centered, start by pulling up one side of the canvas and put a single staple in the center of the stretcher bar.

Once you have one staple in the middle of the first stretcher bar--move to opposite stretcher bar and use you canvas pliers to pull directly opposite your first staple. Once you have a tight stretch--put in your second staple.

Once you have two sides stapled, move to one of the unstapled sides and put another staple in the center of the bar. Once you have a single staple in all four sides, the canvas should have a nice diamond shape in the middle. If it does not--take the staples out and start again. This is the most important step and worth repeating until you get it right--otherwise the canvas in not going to be tight when you are finished.

Once you have a single staple on each of the four sides (and a nice diamond shape), go back to the side you put the first staple into--and (using your canvas pliers to get a good stretch) put a staple on each side of the first. Then move to the opposite side, and repeat. Then move to the other sides, and do the same. Do not put more than two staples on any side at a time--before moving to another side. It is tempting to do one side fully, then move to the next--but you will not get a good tight canvas with this approach.

For this tutorial, I am stretching an 11x11 inch canvas--so only took five staples per side to completely attach the canvas tightly. Here is what a finished side looks like once all the staples in place. Notice, i did not put the last staples all the way at the end of the bar--but left a bit of a space. This is to allow folding of the corners.

Once you have all the staples in place, turn the canvas face down again and make the corners. I have heard these type of corner folds called "hospital corners"--since I think this is the way they used to fold sheets. Basically, what you do is fold the corner of the overlapping canvas towards the center--and then fold the remaining overlapping material over. Once you ahve the fold nice and tight--put a staple across the fold to hold it down. The canvas should be snug against the corner.

Once all four corners are done, I like to put a staple on the overlapping bits of the canvas--one or two is usually enough--and will hold the canvas snug to the back. Here is a picture of what the back looks like with all the staples in place.

And here is the finished canvas--ready to go.

So, there you go, a quick tutorial on how to stretch a canvas. I have stretched canvases up to 30x30 inches using this technique. If you go larger that this, you will need to use a cross brace to keep the bars from warping--or use heavy duty stretcher bars.

Hope you find that useful. Off to the studio--it's time to paint.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Finding Support in your Artistic Process

" North of Taos", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

"Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do”—Edgar Degas

I have been reading a book about the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel called, “Discovering Impressionism”, which gives a detailed account of his life and business as an art dealer. It is a good read, but most of the information you may already know from reading about the various artists whom he represented, such as Degas, Pissarro, Sisley or Renoir. On the other hand, the book does give you a good sense of what it would be like to be an art dealer for artists that are not yet accepted. For example, Monet was completely broke when Durand-Ruel met him in London and agreed to represent him. Even 13 years later, at the time of the First Impressionists Exhibit, there was virtually no market for Monet’s paintings. One critic said about his Monet’s seminal painting, “Impression: Sunrise” (1873) that “Wallpaper in its embryonic stage is more finished than this seascape.” You can remember that next time you are having a bad day painting--Monet had many worse. If you read the book, you will also see that Cezanne seemed to get it worst of all--both from the critics and from himself.

Anyway, the reason I am bringing this up, is that I have been working on some landscape studies over the weekend, and have been struggling with my own motivations for the subject. I mean, why paint a landscape—why not just take a picture? I know it sounds a bit crazy, but landscape painting as a whole has not been around that long. It was less than 150 years ago or so that people even starting thinking that landscape painting was something to take seriously—and then mainly because there was no photography. People lived without landscape paintings for thousands of years and seemed to get along just fine—I suppose they would just look out the window instead. So why ruin a good thing and start hanging these colored scribbles on the wall? It seems a reasonable question.

When I started painting landscapes early in my artist career—I really didn’t think too much about it. I owned a French Easel long before I owned my studio easel—and going outside to paint just seem natural. However, as I have gotten older and more progressed in my painting process, I have found the same thing that Degas has spoken of--that the more I know about painting, the harder it seems to get—so why?

The first reason is that you start asking much more from paintings. Also, and I think most painters will agree, your artistic output always lags behind what you think you can do in your mind. In that sense, the painting you are thinking about, or trying to paint today—is the one that will come out at the easel in three or six months. This means artists are always a bit frustrated with their outputs—always challenged by “the next one” that is lurking in our head. This is probably also true of other creative processes, such as writing.

Which brings me to my point of this post, which is the need to find a process that works for you in terms of reducing the lag between what you want to do—and what actually comes out. That is, the need to make a stronger connection between your artistic vision and the practical process of making art. I think if you take the time to do this, it can be very empowering—and will provide a strong foundation for your work—which I think this is absolutely necessary to sustain yourself as an artist. I mean, what if a critic says that your paintings are no better than “embryonic wallpaper”—would you quit painting? What if they said it over and over again over fifteen years…in the local newspaper? I don't think many artists can honestly say they could still go to the studio everyday. I wonder if I could.

The good news is that the most potent antidote for the critics and self-doubters alike is to have a solid artistic process that supports your studio practice. What I am talking about here is a practical process that will get you back into the studio painting no matter what happens in your daily life. Of course, everyone has a slightly different way of going about their art, so I am not trying to say that I can give you a detailed plan—but let me tell you about some steps that I have taken that have helped me move in the right direction in my own process:

1. Take yourself seriously. As you have probably learned, there are very few people who take artists seriously and painters even less. Degas always said that this is why he never married, he didn’t want his wife popping into the studio saying—that is a nice little painting—why don’t you paint more like that? Everyone has so many pre-conceived notions about artists, if you say you are an artist—you are more likely to get a snide comment about what a nice hobby that must be—rather than support. Imagine, if you were to stand up at a party and announce you have decided to become an investment broker, no one would bat an eye. On the other hand, if you stand up and announce you were going to be an artist—most people would roll their eyes. Someone once said to me, “If you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?” I think this is worth thinking about--if you want to get people to support you—you need to do it yourself first. Would you take yourself more seriously if you were a heart surgeon? Hmmmm.

2. Think before you Paint. I think there is a great tendency to jump too quickly into a painting. I mean, what is all the fuss--get some paint, brushes, and a canvas—and away you go. For many years, this is the way I approached painting—and while it led to output—it usually did not lead to satisfying results. I have come to understand in my own work, that it is important to consider, before even lifting a brush, what I am trying to accomplish for each and every painting. I know it sounds tedious, but believe me—this helps. Once I have a clear idea, then I can start looking at the options in terms of composition, focal point, and basic color schemes. As I mentioned in a previous post, I find it useful to pick one simple idea or objective for each painting. For example, for a landscape—it might be a particular feeling of evening or morning light, or the color of a particular mountain or colors of the season. If this is too complicated, you can make it simpler—like the just capturing the mass of a tree or the color of a field. In my experience, the simpler and more focused the objective—the better the painting will be in the end. Also, having a clear objective in mind helps you to establish a process for developing ideas. For example—if you wanted to capture a particular time of the day—you can start by looking at how other artists have accomplished it, do some small studies and sketches, and work through the problem. The process itself will take you somewhere.

3. Have clear goals and a plan for your work. Making progress in painting is very slow. In my experience, it takes about 3-4 months of painting everyday to see even small improvement—and years to see any big gains. Thus, your goals and plans for your work need to reflect this reality. For example, if you want to get your work into a local gallery, it may take years just to get your work to the point when you feel you are ready. And, even if you are good enough today, you will still need enough work, the rights sizes and subjects, and a consistent style of work even to be considered—that could take months, if not longer. Personally, I find it useful to set clear weekly, monthly, yearly, and every five-year goals for my work. You can also have a long-term or lifetime goal—but these are mostly for dreaming. It is better to have more short term goals, than long term goals—since these are the ones that will drive your daily process. For example, a short-term goal might be to paint a small painting that really captures the feeling of the fall colors in your neighborhood—while a 6 month goal might be to make a set of paintings that you could enter into a local art show. The one-month goal is the one that will drive your immediate process, so you should take the time you need to achieve it. Do small studies, do some research, make it happen. Taking a slow, practical approach to your short-term objectives will immediately reward you, as it serves as support for you as an artist. After all, the first thing you will need to go to the museums to look at how other artist have done this, do some sketching, color studies, take pictures—really let yourself get into it. The deeper you go, the better your will feel about your work—and the more self-sustaining the process. Your spouse might even start to take you seriously.

4. Judge the process, not each individual output. It is very easy to make a bad painting. We all make them. Even the ones we think are good, often backfire. I am always surprised when the paintings I think are my best, other people don’t seem to like—while some of my worst (in my opinion) have been the ones to sell. Artists are not good judges of their own work. So how does one judge ones work? Well, if you are focused on clear objectives and are taking the time to prepared and execute, the outputs become less important as individual pieces to sell or show. What you will quickly see is that each painting is like the piece in a larger puzzle—leading to something else. Sure, some are better than others—but you might find for example, in that one I really nailed the colors. Or the composition in that one is what I was after. You will begin to see your paintings less as statements of whether you are a "good artist"--and more as imperfect children of your process.

Anyway, I hope you have found these ramblings useful—and perhaps inspiring. In my experience, a good artistic process will give you a sense of purpose and motivation—and provide support even in the most chaotic times. I usually close by saying, go to your studio and paint. But, today I think I will close by saying—go to your studio and think (but not too much)—then paint.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Color--do you see what I see?

"America's Favorite Color (blue)", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

“It is impossible to remember color precisely…color is a psychic effect.”--
Josef Albers

For those of you new to my blog, I am doing a series of paintings I call "America's Favorites", and the above painting is the third in the series. To learn more about the series, read my previous post.

So, I came across a book the other day at Border’s which I have since recommended to several people, it is titled, "Josef Albers: To Open Eyes". It was written by a former student of Albers and the curator of the Albers Foundation in Connecticut. I have read Albers classic book on color "The Interaction of Color"--but frankly never took the time to study it carefully, and I probably understood about 10% of it in any case.

Anyway, the Albers Foundation has a "by invitation only" artist-in-residence program, and my friend Mitchell Johnson was selected this year. He has been going back and forth between San Francisco and the Foundation for the past month or so, which got me interested again in color theory. I thus went to the bookstore to take another look at the “Interaction of Color” book and came across this new book, “To Open Eyes”. This book is an attempt to capture a record of Albers’ teachings when he was at Yale and Black Mountain College—where such notables and Rauschenberg and Twombly studied. If you don’t know about the Yale and Black Mountain programs of the 1950s, you are missing a big piece of American art history. Read this for starters.

Anyway, I highly recommend the “To Open Eyes” book—which contains detailed information and examples of how Albers taught color, painting, and drawing to his students. The only disappointment was that the book made me realize how deficient my training has been in these areas. It is a totally different approach than most art schools—where they basically set you up in front of an easel, get you painting, and then walk around and critique your work. If you lucky, they might give you some conceptual exercises—but don’t expect to be taught how to draw. Albers’ approach was totally different—and I think it shows in the quality of his student’s work.

Albers, to his credit, had a very clear vision for what it took to learn to be an artist—and it is consistent with what I have discovered over the years—and what this blog is about. First, one must learn to see—or as I have said many times—if you want to improve your paintings, “look harder”. Second, that good work habits and consistency are keys to maintaining an artistic process. Albers believed that the act of creating art encouraged self-confidence and independence—and was a powerful antidote to what he saw as a “culture of conformity.” Simply the act of making something has power for the individual if you do it regularly.

So, what does this have to do with this post? Well, there is an exercise that is mentioned in the book that Albers used do at the start of his color curriculum that I thought was worth telling you about. Essentially, he would pass out packs of colored paper to his students and then ask them to pick out the “reddest red” in the pack. Or he would ask, pick out the red that is the “Coca-cola” red. Of course, every time students selected different colors out of the pack as the reddest red or “Coca-cola” red.

Another of the exercises he did relates back the difference between value and chroma—which is one of the biggest weakness I see in most intermediate artists' work. To get his students thinking about this issue, Albers would ask students to use the colored paper and start pairing colors of near or equal values. Invariably, students not only disagreed on whether the paired colors were really equal in value, many times they could not even decide which color was lighter or darker than the other. He would also ask students to pair colors which were of equal intensity—again this led to disagreements among the students.

So here is your “Albers” test for the day. In the above painting, which of the following are higher in value: the green background or blue highlight on the tube of paint? Second question, is the brown of the table top higher in value or lower in value than the blue highlight on the tube? The answers are at the bottom of the post.

So why am I challenging you like this. Well, I have been saying that value is more important than color when it comes to making a good painting—which I think is true. But, that said, I also think that color can be used very effectively to get your messages across in your paintings—but you must understand that colors are relative to one another—and people’s perceptions of color vary. So, you must learn and practice color—don’t just go out there and start laying it on. The misuse of color is by far to quickest way to ruin a painting—I have seen it over and over again. I partly blame the paint manufacturers for making so many colors readily available. There is so much pigment in modern paints, and so many colors are available, it is a wonder that good paintings get made, seriously.

So, yes, blue is America’s favorite color. Pantone did a survey, and here are the results. I was actually surprised to see that red came in 12th in the survey—I suspect this has to do with their methodology. I found another on-going Internet survey where red and blue are neck-in-neck for America’s favorite color. I think this is a more true result. My perception is that red and blue are, in fact, the classic America colors. Why? It has become so ingrained in the culture. We have the red states and blue states, we have the red-white-and blue of the flag, and we have red fighting blue (think Confederates against the Union). So is red or blue America’s favorite color, here is a second version of my America’s Favorite Color painting (work in progress). I am posting both, so the viewer can decide—since color is in the eye of the beholder.

"America's Favorite Color (red)", Oil on Panel (Work in Progress), 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

Oh, I almost forgot. The answers to the above quiz are: (i) the green background is several values lower (darker) than the blue highlight; and (ii) the brown table is around the same value as the blue highlight. Oh, also, just for reference, the red highlight in the above painting—is about the same value as the blue highlight in the top painting--could you tell? My guess is that most people will pick the red as the higher value--since it is appears to "glow" more intensely. But, then again, maybe not to you.

So there are some thoughts on color perception for the day--with two examples. Go back to your studio and paint. But, please put away some of those tubes of color and simplify your life a bit. Think about which color you want to use—don’t just pick up the first blue you see—think about which one you need. I once heard it said, “you need a good reason to pick one color over another”—and I think that is good advice. BTW, I pick blue.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to Build Low-Cost Frames for your Paintings

"America's Favorite Breakfast", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

($100 . Click here to purchase).

I have started work on my latest series of paintings, which will be titled "America's Favorites". The idea has been lurking in the back of my mind for the last few weeks--and "Apple Pie Slice" served as a nice transitional piece. The idea for the series is to take objects from everyday life that are quintessentially American--and do a series of small paintings. Apple Pie is pretty obvious, but I am actually looking for some of the more subtle items that seem to creep into our lives and become standard American fare before we even realize it. To me, the bagel and cream cheese is a good example--it is not as obvious as apple pie or, say, bacon and eggs--yet it is now almost a standard breakfast for Americans. Stay tuned to see what I find next--I think you will be surprised.

Okay, so back to the post at hand. I have been promising to tell you how to make a low-cost frame for your paintings. As I said the other day, I personally like to send my paintings out "ready to hang" and have been offering a simple pine box frame with my Ebay (now Etsy) sales--for an additional charge of $10. So, let me show you have I make them.

The method I will demonstrate will work for a 3/16th inch panel, but the principles can be adapted to fit just about any thickness or type of painting. At the end of the post, I will show you how to adapt the design so you can use it for a painting on stretched canvas, for example.

The basic process starts with two pieces of lumber, which you can either buy ready made--or make from scrap or basic lumber stock (for example, 1x8 lumber). If you build them from stock, you will minimally need a table saw--but also preferably a router to cut a "round-over" on the front edge of the frame. You will see what I mean in a second. I have been using ready made lumber lately to save time--so let me show you that approach first.

The process starts with two pieces of store bought molding. I buy mine at Home Depot in the trim section--but I am sure you can get them at most hardware or lumber yards--if you are doing custom cuts--then you would make these from your stock.

The first piece is a standard piece of rectangular molding--11/16" by 7/16". The second piece is called "screen pine" and has a tapered (rounded over) edge--which probably comes in various widths. For my purposes, I am using a 3/4 inch width--which I think is standard.

The first step is to glue these pieces together using wood glue along the short side of the rectangular stock. I start by putting a bead of glue on the square stock (not the screen pine)--and then spread it with my finger. You will need to keep some wet paper towels around to wipe off your fingers and excess glue.

Once you have the glue spread evenly on one side, you want to clamp your screen pine (or rounded over stock). I use standard "c-clamps" from the hardware store. But I have also used vise grip pliers--in a pinch. Anything that will hold tightly as the glue dries. Be careful not to over tighten the clamps or you may leave tool marks on the wood that will be hard to get out later. When clamping the wood, I usually start at one end and work my way to the other. I may seem easier to clamp the two ends first, but this usually causes problems and warping in the middle.

Here is a picture of the pieces of wood clamped together. I usually put one clamp every 10-12 inches to get a good tight fit. For this eight foot piece--I used eight clamps. After all the clamps are tightened, go back and wipe off any excess glue. Especially if you plan to stain or paint the frame--since the glue with keep these material from adhering later on.

Here is a side view of the pieces after the glue has dried. You can see--it is basically a rectangular piece of word with a flatter piece glued to the side.

Now comes the fun part--cutting the miters. For this purpose, I highly recommend a good miter saw. This is mine, which I bought 15 years ago for around $100. I was just down at Home Depot yesterday--and you can still get a decent one for around $100. This one has saved me thousands of dollars in framing costs over the years. I suppose you could do this with a miter box, but I don't recommend it.

You want to take your time when measuring the cuts. I like to have a slight offset from the front edge of the frame to the edge of the panel of around 1/8th inch. Also, my panels (which I showed you how to make a couple of posts ago) are not always perfectly six inches. Thus, I usually use the painting itself as the guide when measuring. You want to measure against the top edge of the stock (along the raised edge)--not the bottom or outside. You see I have put the panel right up against where I want to measure--and I mark the stock to the width of the panel plus 1/4 inch (1/8 for each side of the panel) to get my offset. Then cut away.

After cutting your miters, I recommend you layout the frame to make sure it fits together. Many times I have found that I have overcut--or missed one of the cuts--and the frame is not square. Better to find out while you still have the saw out--then when you are trying to glue the frame.

Once the frame seems to have a good fit, I use a very simple tool that I love--the band clamp. You can get one of these at the hardware store when you get your wood--they are a must have for framers. I have tried corner clamps--but this device works much better. I glue both side of each corner--and then wipe off the excess glue that squeezes out after I tighten the clamp.

Once the glue is dry, I give the frame a good sanding with a medium weight sandpaper--to get rid of any imperfections or marks. I then will attach framing hooks and wire to the inside of frame. If you put them into the back--the picture will not hang flush to the wall. That is another reason I like this type of box frame--it allows interior mounting of the wire--not all frame designs do.

I mentioned that this design can be used for stretched canvas or linen. Here is a frame I built 15 years ago. I have applied a stain--but the design is the same--only the measurements differ. Essentially it is a back support--with a side piece that has been rounded off. I made these frames from 1x8 pieces of lumber in a friend's woodshop back in the early 1990s for a show I was having. I made 40 frames for around $4 each!

Mounting stretched paintings is a bit different than with panels--and is actually a bit easier. I simply used a wood screw and drill a pilot hole--then set the screw through the frame and into the stretcher bar.

So this is how this simple panel frame looks after it has dried--and the picture is mounted. You can see the 1/8 inch offset on each side, as well as the flush hanging. I think it looks nice, given the cost. I mount the panel into the frame using double-side removable mounting tape (you can get this at craft, art, or framing stores). You can use the permanent mounting tape--which holds a bit better--if you don't imagine changing the frame in the future. I use removable, since I am not sure if my collectors will stick with the frame over the years.

So how much does it costs? I went out yesterday and bought 24 feet of screen pine and rectangular stock for around $18. That is enough, if you measure and cut carefully, for around nine frames. I usually make a mistake that means I lose a few pieces, but let's say a minimum of 6 frames--that works out to $3 per frame per 6x6 panels. It takes about one hour to make a frame--not counting the time you are waiting for glue to dry. But you can save time by making a dozen or so at at a time. They look nice--and people appreciate having a ready to hang piece arrive in the mail.

Okay, there you go--my long promised tutorial on making a simple pine frame. However, don't go a make one right away--you need to go to the studio first and make a painting. Don't get distracted by frame making--that will come later--think of it as the reward for selling a painting.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Etsy vs. Ebay-what are the advantages?

"Above the Sangre de Christo", Oil on Panel, 6x6 Inches
Jerry Lebo 2007

I have been working on two landscape commissions over the last week, so I have a lot of reference material from Santa Fe sitting around the studio. I was thinking back to the first time I went to Santa Fe in 1994, and I remember it was the sky that really drew my attention--and it has compelled me as an artist ever since.

One of the natural phenomenons that occurs in Santa Fe—that I rarely see anywhere else—is the way the clouds seem to explode over the top of the Sangre De Christo Mountains above the city. The first time I saw this, my first thought was that if you were to do a painting of it—no one would ever believe it actually looks like that. I have done several paintings of it over the years-and people seem to understand. I regularly get emails from people who have lived in New Mexico and and fondly recall the skies. Back in July I did a painting titled “Above Tesuque”, which was the first painting I sold on Ebay--to a former NM resident who is now living on the east coast. So I took the opportunity of having all my cloud photos around the studio to do the above small painting.

So, as you may have seen from my widget (bottom right of my blog), I have started posting some of my work to Etsy, rather than Ebay. Here is a link if you are interested in taking a look at my new Etsy store—where you can also see the above painting.

So why did I move over to Etsy? Well, I remember getting a comment from someone back in July on my blog about Etsy (recommending it) and I have been curious ever since. But the real impetus came when I did a review of my sales over the past few months and realized that I am losing about 3-4 percent of my sales price to the listing fees at Ebay. Since I often listed items more than once before they sold—and some never sold—this means I have been losing about 10% of my overall revenue to Ebay listing fees. Thus, for small $100 paintings, I am not sure Ebay is the best approach. In fact, those PAD painters who seem to be successful on Ebay are getting multiple bids which raise the price of their paintings. For me, I has usually get only a single bid, so Ebay is not really much of an advantage from the point of view of raising the selling price. So, I am going to try Etsy for a while—although I may still use Ebay now and again. I have kept with my fixed price approach (which I posted about the other day) of $3 per square inch for paintings, and $1.25 per square inch for works on paper.

So what are the advantages of Ebay over Etsy. First, Ebay is great for getting access to a lot of people. There are millions of eyes over at Ebay looking for all sorts of stuff. So new people may see your work each day, as the result of browsing listings related to yours--or just looking to buy art from new artists. On the other hand, with 20,000 paintings for sale—it is pretty much luck or clever marketing if they find it. I saw one artist using an interesting—but in my mind not entirely ethical approach. He had purchased a Duane Keiser painting—and relisted it for $1000 as part of his Ebay store. So if somebody types Duane Keiser as an Ebay search, this guy's Ebay store comes up (in bold) at the bottom of the search results—offering a painting at more than triple the price of the paintings Duane is actually selling. I am sure that people click to see this very expensive Keiser painting—then get hit in the face with lots of thumbnails of this guy's work. Pretty clever—and I am sure it sells a lot of paintings as a result--but I am not sure if I could sleep at night knowing I was using another artist's reputation to sell my paintings. But, then again, he is not the first or last artist to take such an approach. I am sure that if you get into the gallery where there is an established well-selling artist--your sales will go up too--especially if you paint in the same manner. But is this the same as buying one of his paintings and selling it in your own gallery to attact attention? Anyway, I just checked on Ebay before posting this, and he is still doing it.

On Etsy, the first thing I noticed is that I am actually getting more “views” of my paintings than I was on Ebay—although I have not sold anything yet. On Ebay, most of my paintings were sold at the reserve price in any case—after a single bid—and I think most purchasers were coming through my blog. For $.20 per listing (much lower than Ebay)—and about the same selling fees—your listings stays on Etsy for four months with no additional fee. So, if you are selling mainly through word of mouth (or your blog), Etsy may make more sense for you. In terms of advertisement, however, it may also be good to have a few paintings over at Ebay every now and again. However, until you are generating multiple bids for your paintings, Ebay’s only advantage is the sheer numbers of possible buyers—note, I say possible, since you will still need to find a way to drive traffic to your work. Generally speaking, I noticed that I was selling one painting for every 100-150 views of my work. Don’t take that as a scientific number—it is just a rough rule of thumb I came up with from observation. However, in my case, it has mainly been my blog—and not Ebay—that has driven traffic and interest in my work—so I am looking to cut my costs a bit over at Etsy.

Okay, well, that is it for now. I am working on my next posting already, which will be about how to make a low-cost frame for your paintings—an issue that several of my readers have sent me emails about requesting more information. I just received an order to build 12 frames for one of my collectors, so it is a good time to do the post on the subject. Stay tuned.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Painting-a-Day--should you do it?

"Southwest View (near Abiquiu)", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

I worked on some commissions over the weekend. The client for the above painting requested a southwest view similar in style to my painting titled, “North of Espanola”, which is a large painting (30x30 inches). Needless to say, it was a real challenge trying to pack a similar landscape into a 6x6 inch panel. I also wanted to do something slightly new with this commission, so I changed the rock formations and sky based on some photos I had from up in Northern New Mexico from our vacation last summer. It brought back a lot of memories to be painting a summer scene, while the weather in DC is turning cold.

Earlier in the week, I had a chance to go down to the JMW Turner exhibit showing at the National Gallery of Art. I have never really been a big Turner fan, but there were a few pieces that were worth seeing. There is a lot of work at the show from the Tate in London that was collected from his studio after his death. That is the work most worth seeing. I think the same was true of Corot, I have also seen many of his little studies he made for his own use in the studio, and I find these to be the most interesting work. It makes you wonder sometimes—are all these little notes and studies that I am doing in the studio going to end up in a museum show after I die? I’d better pick them up off the floor and dust them off a bit.

Anyway, leaving the exhibition, I noticed they were selling copies of the 2001 biography of Turner by James Hamilton for $10 (half-price), so I bought a copy and have been reading it on the train and in the evenings. Reading about Turner got me thinking about the business of art—and in particular about the current “painting-a-day” movement (PAD). Turner was a very astute businessman, who never let an opportunity to make money off his art pass him by. One could argue that he invented the “painting-a-day” approach. Not only did he paint nearly everyday, but he would churn out little watercolors for his collectors at the drop of a hat. He used to keep detailed list of scenic views people had requested, and next time he was in the area--he would rattle off a quick watercolor and send it out. He even offered to hand out small paintings to the Royal Academy in order to get elected as an Associate (art as bribery!). In fact, Turner started out as a youth selling his small watercolors off the walls of his father’s barbershop—for about the price of a haircut—to the wealthy patrons who came for a trim. He was a businessman and an artist. Perhaps, that is why he was so successful—he painted a lot—and understood that to keep painting, he needed to sell his work regularly by whatever means available.

Is “painting-a-day” a fad? I think it depends on how you look at it. From the artists personal point of view, for many, I think the answer maybe “yes”. I have been surfing around the blogosphere and web lately, and it is not hard to find numerous abandoned PAD blogs—with a couple, or even months of postings—but then nothing. As I said when I started this blog, I think the PAD approach is actually very hard to keep up as a practice—sure for a month, or a year, but 10 years? How many artists have the stamina?

As for myself, I have never professed to be a member of the PAD movement, simply because I have painted long enough to know that it is not possible to do it with the time I have available. Even five paintings a week would be a big order. But, in my view, the main benefit of the PAD approach is not sales or being able to make a painting a day—it the consistent effort and practice that it requires to even try. As you know, I have proposed a more modest approach--a minimum of an hour per day in the studio. I think it is reasonable to produce 2-3 small paintings per week this way, if you are able to put some consistent time on the weekends—say, around 10 hours per week total. But, the goal should be to develop as an artist through a consistent effort--not output.

So back to the selling of paintings. I am not "anti-Gallery", in fact, I think you should have your paintings in Galleries, on Ebay, at art shows, wherever you feel comfortable selling your art. However, having personally taken a 10 year hiatus from selling, I think there is nothing wrong with not selling your art--the goal is to paint--not to sell. To me, it was a luxury to take a decade long break from selling--and just paint for myself--and take a day job. Before getting a full-time job, art was my only source of income for a while and if I didn't sell, I didn't eat. Talk about pressure--it is a quick way to lose your artistic freedom. I think artistic success has other potential downsides. If you are successful, you will be under incredible pressure to paint, "more like that you did for your last show". Or, your gallery will want you to paint in a certain way, like another painter that sells well. I am not kidding here, my artist friends have been asked by their galleries to do just these sort of things--more than once.

So what is the point of this post? Well, I wanted to make some suggestions for those who are thinking about whether they should join the PAD movement, get a gallery, or to paint a certain way. My first recommendation is that you should not be afraid to not sell your art. I find it useful at this point in my life to sell my art, but if you have a job--you may have your plate full and may not need the extra workload. It is more important to paint, than to worry about selling. On the other hand, if you want to try it--go for it.

My second recommendation is that you should not be be afraid to approach galleries, but be prepared for hearing a hundred "nos" for each "yes". Also, don't think that getting a gallery will solve your problems or make you enough money to quit your job. More than likely, it won't. But then again, Ebay probably won't either. The way to sell enough art to quit your day job is probably not what you want to hear. Here it is: Paint everyday for twenty years--and use every moment you are not painting to build people's interest in your art. Repeat every twenty years, until death. If you are lucky, somewhere in the first 10-20 year of doing this you will be able to paint full-time. However, the same effort will be required until the last step, death, regardless of how much money you make in any one month. The effort required to keep it going does not diminish.

My last recommendation is that you shouldn't get too worried if you are not part of the PAD movement, it is a good practice if you want to give it a try--but 365 paintings a year is quite a lot. It is more important to have good work habits and a consistent practice--not output. One painting a week would be a good start. Anyway, the PAD movement is certain to fade away as the art market and consumers lose interest. Although, I think the main attraction is not the fact there is a painting everyday--but the fact that artist are reaching out, sending paintings around by email, drawing attention to their work in new ways, etc. In any case, all art trends fade away, and this one will eventually too. That does not mean direct sales, blogs, and the Internet will not be essential tools for artists for many years to come. They will. It is just that the PAD movement may not be the underlying concept. There may be other approaches and ideas that will come along and replace it (maybe the sixty minutes a day approach!).

So there you go, some thoughts on keeping focused on what is important--a consistent effort. Forget the trends, painting has been around for centuries and artist with good work habits and some luck--are the ones that people remember. History is littered with talented artists that failed to apply themselves--no one has ever heard of them. Which one will you be?

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Selling Paintings on Ebay--An Update

"Sunfish Pond (study)", Mixed Media on Paper
Jerry Lebo, 2006

I got an email from Cynthia out in Utah yesterday, asking me to do a post about my experience selling my paintings on Ebay. So I thought I would give you my views and experience. I did a post on this topic back in July when I was just starting out selling on Ebay--so you might want to go back and read that one first, here is a link.

First, let me give you a quick history and why I chose to sell on Ebay—at the end I will come back to what I have learned.

Of course, I was naturally wary about putting my paintings on Ebay. After all, it is the world's "biggest yard sale" and is definitely a buyer’s market. I had sold many paintings to people in the past through direct sales and shows--and I was sure that I would not get prices similar to those. My price in a gallery for an 8x10 painting (10 years ago when I was painting full-time) was around $500--it seemed that I was not going to make that kind of money on Ebay. Also, with inflation, that is probably around $750 in today’s terms.

The first thing I did before putting my paintings up on Ebay was to read all that I could find out there on the web about the process and even bought a book on Ebay selling. Most of what I read was useless—but some was good. The bad advice I found were things like, "paint in bright colors", "make large abstract work", etc. Hey, I wanted to sell my paintings, not my soul. The first decision I made was that whatever approach I took on Ebay, I would simply paint what I wanted to paint and see if it sold—not adjust it in anyway.

I also wanted my art to fit with the premise of my blog, which is to make consistent progress in art through a daily practice—not flog out a painting per day (nothing against those guys—don’t send me nasty comments). I am not blogging to sell my paintings—I blog and paint for myself and my readers—not for money. I have a well-paying day job in order to get money.

Good advice I found on the web came from the USA news article, and another article forwarded by my friend Mitchell, about our former Randolph-Macon College classmate, Duane Keiser. Duane's logic for his painting-a-day approach was that there are buyers out there for small paintings that do not have access to galleries, or wouldn't go into one a buy a $3000 painting, but might buy a small painting. So, that got me thinking about how I would need to price my paintings and what size to paint.

Okay, so let’s start with price. I knew that I had to find a competitive point where I was willing to part with my paintings, but not give them away. I was humble enough to know that I was at least going to have to build a following before I put my prices up. Duane’s advice in this regard was good—of course, every artist thinks their art work is worth a lot—since it is a struggle to produce. It is my art, so the market should pay me! The fact is that the market doesn’t care. And if you look out there, with at least 20,000 paintings for sale on Ebay right now (go check), you will soon see that setting prices emotionally is a recipe for failure. Art is art—a commodity that people mainly purchase for decoration and to look at—and there is a lot of competition. The successful artist’s I know are able to separate the process of making art, from the commercial side of the business. These are two different worlds—and you better learn how to separate them if you want to be successful at selling. Success at painting is not the same as success at selling.

So, on pricing, I went back to square one. When I was a full-time artist in the late 1990s, I used to put a smaller painting, say, up to 8x10 up on the wall in a gallery for around $500. The gallery would take 50%--and I had to supply the framing and all the advertisement. That meant that I actually took home around $240 when that painting sold (no wonder I had to get a full time job)! I sold large paintings for more—and generally tried to keep the price proportional to size.

So I did the same math for Ebay. An 8x10 is 80 square inches, and $240 is roughly $3 a square inch. I decided, after trying different formats, that 6x6 paintings are a good size and format for my purposes. So, $3 per square inch is the equivalent of $108. Now, the advantage of Ebay is that I have control of the marketing, shipping, and framing decisions. I did not want to overcharge people for shipping, since I hate when people do this to me. So I estimated my cost and charged that amount, which is around $8. I offer a frame to my buyers at $10—at their choice. The frames I can build myself and keep the cost down, and people seem to appreciate them. I personally like to sell my paintings framed and ready to hang. It is sort of a hang-up of mine (hah!). The frames take about an ½ hour to build and cost me $5 each in materials—so not much profit—but a bit.

So I decided to put my first 6x6 paintings on Ebay for $99 (if I put in on for $108, the fees go up). I did this first back in July-August with the idea that if I can sell the frame with the painting—I would be roughly getting $3 a square inch. I used this as well for my overall pricing policy for all my paintings—direct sales--but add a set-up fee for commissions. $240 for a 8x10, $300 for a 10x10, and on up. The largest painting I have in my studio right now is 30x30 and its price is $2700.

So what is my experience after 3-4 months? In sum, I have sold around 12 paintings (I say “around”, since I have an order for two commissions and another in the works). Not counting orders, but actual sales, I have generated around $1800 in gross revenue with costs (materials, shipping, framing, etc.) of around$300—for a net profit of around $1500. Most of this was earned in the last two months, so I have cleared about $750 a month. This works out to be the same as a minimum wage job over the same two month period (assuming I have a bit of a tax advantage over a wage worker—since everything is deductible).

So what are the lessons I have learned and my recommendations to those who might want to start:

1. Understand the Market before you start. First, don’t start with high prices, start with small paintings. Buyers accept small paintings (in fact like them) more easily than high prices. Have a clear pricing policy that people understand. If you cannot answer in 5 seconds when somebody ask you how much a painting is, your pricing is too complicated. I have had many direct queries about other larger paintings, and I keep to my policy. Whatever you adopt, the pricing should be straightforward and understandable—and related to size, materials, and technique. Works on paper, for example, I price lower.

2. In early stages, the main benefits of selling on Ebay are not Monetary. You are not likely to get rich right off the bat with Ebay. It may happen over time—and it may not. I will let you know when it happens for me—but I think that it will be a combination of selling methods that are needed. With respect to Ebay, the main benefits I have seen have resulted from connecting with collectors and other buyers. I sold around 1-2 paintings a month when I was a full-time artist, but much of it were to “friends of friends” and people living in DC, or people that I knew indirectly somehow. Through Ebay, I have met people all over the country. This has been very rewarding. First, because when a complete stranger buys your work, you know they are buying because they like it. Also, you never know where sales to strangers will lead (see my post on Commissions). Of the sixteen people I have sold paintings to over the last several months, I only knew one previously.

3. Be Patient. It was nearly a month before my first sale on Ebay—and they were very slow for the first several months. In fact, they have been slow again lately, and I will likely sell as many paintings directly through blog contacts and commissions from people who know my work over the next several weeks—than through Ebay. I don’t think that means I should stop Ebay—it is just a natural evolution of the process.

4. Study other Artists and Market Trends. I think the tendency would be to think that when you are selling regularly on Ebay that you should raise your prices. But, in fact, I am thinking to the contrary. I am planning to use the funds I have earned from my sales to buy a small used etching press. I learned etching many years ago and I miss it—and would like to start again. I also think this would allow me to produce etchings which I could sell on Ebay or elsewhere for more accessible prices of around $25-30. I want more people to have access to my work, not less! This is consistent with what other artists have done. For example, there are two major art shows in DC right now, Turner and Hopper—both were etchers who used etchings to popularize their work. The value of their paintings rose when their popularity rose, not because they thought their work was suddenly worth more.

Anyway, that is my experience so far on Ebay. I will do another update down the road to let you know how it is going at around 6 months.

So, go to your studio and paint (or etch)—and then go out and find yourself some buyers. Not because you need the money, but because you need to meet people who value your art and will inspire you to make more.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.