Most serious Artists and Collectors agree that focus is important for an artist’s body of work. Focus provides continuity from one painting to the next, and allows the work to hang together when presented en masse. But how does one go about creating a focus in their work? And for collectors, how does one amass a collection that works together? Here are a few ways to cultivate or create focus.
1. Focus on Subject Matter
Probably the most common way that collectors create focus is to concentrate on collecting a particular type of work. Some are drawn to landscape, while others prefer abstract or figurative paintings. Similarly, artists often gravitate toward particular subject matter.
My own work has always focused on narrative, despite the genre. The earliest still life paintings incorporated objects precious to me that told a story. The “Haunting Aunties” figurative paintings also tried to convey a sense of storytelling about family history and bonds. My current abstract work is also based upon narratives surrounding my rural upbringing and connection to the farm where I was raised. Because I know what my main interest is, I can delve into sub-plots and explore different stories in an in-depth way.
2. Focus on Design Elements
One thing I try to convey in my workshops is that each artist may be drawn to different means of expression. Some artists prefer to emphasize color, while others may be more interested in using line. Collectors may also have some of the same predilections. One patron may prefer to collect work that is bright and colorful, while another may prefer black & white photographs or drawings, yet another person may be drawn over and over to primitive pattern work or sculpture.
I have a strong bias toward using color. Warm and cool contrasts have always captivated me, and my eye is always drawn to new color combinations. I’m currently focusing on using subtle color contrasts wherever I can.
3. Focus on Style
Even if an artist decides that they will focus on the landscape, for instance, various works may not be cohesive in a body of work because of different styles. For instance, a single realistic black and white landscape would stand out from a group of colorful abstracted landscapes. If an artist is true to their own vision and pursues a style that fits their temperament, the work is more likely to be cohesive. By committing to working in a specific style, the artist’s work will gain focus. Collectors often prefer to purchase work in a certain style as well.
Currently, my focus in on an abstracted, almost non-objective style. Within the spectrum of abstraction, I tend to fall toward the very abstract, even though much of my work originates in a very real subject.
4. Focus on Medium
Many collectors prefer to collect the majority of their work in one medium, such as watercolor or oil or sculpture. Artists, too, can often be known for their work in one medium.
Personally, I have enjoyed exploring watercolor, gouache, collage, drawing, acrylic, encaustic, cold wax and oil. Although my work spans many mediums, my application of the various types of paint or pigments often makes it difficult for viewers to tell what the medium is. This is because my brush-work, palette and shapes are fairly consistent between mediums.
5. Focus on a Series
Many artists make work in a series, each individual piece relating to the broad idea and yet differing from its companion pieces in varying degrees. The individual pieces may focus on different facets of the idea or different conditions. The artist Claude Monet is an artist who worked on different series during his career. His most famous may be the Water Lilies – a series of work inspired by the lily pond in his garden. He also painted a series of work exploring different light conditions on haystacks and on Rouen Cathedral.
For me, painting work in a series give me an opportunity to experiment with color and to explore different facets of the broader idea of my farm upbringing. My earlier series the “Haunting Aunties” explored the influence women, especially women in the family, have on each others’ lives.
An example of focus in a series
Here is a peek at how working in a series helps me to refine my ideas. Below are three paintings, all of the same subject. These paintings all began in my workshop in Springfield – The ABC’s of Abstraction. They became increasingly abstract as I worked on them. I began with the idea of painting my dad’s shoe and pant leg from memory. He used to keep cigarette butts in the cuff of his jeans to avoid fire danger in the summer. This idea is a potent memory of my dad.
I began with the image on the left. It focused on the leg of Dad’s Levis, and you can see the white cigarette butts in the cuff shape near the bottom. The second image shown is actually the third painting of this subject. In this painting I decided to focus more on the shoe, even though the cuff and cigarettes are still there. I also emphasized line more in this image. The third painting is titled Effigy. An effigy is a symbol of a person, often used as a monument and sometimes the ‘butt’ of angry demonstration. I thought the title fit the almost iconic representation of this symbol for my dad. I feel this image still has echoes of the previous images, but I like the abstraction – how the paint is beautiful on its own without the subject matter.
How have you found focus in your work or your art collecting? Click below to leave me a comment or share with a friend.
“Damn Cigarettes” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 22×15″ Watermedia on Paper
“Dad’s Shoe” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 30×22″ Watermedia on Paper
“Effigy” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 30″x22″ watercolor on paper
“Abstract literally means to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract… a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts.” (Richard Diebenkorn)
Art Inquiries To Take Seriously
Art Inquiries that Pass Muster have many of these qualities:
- Proficient grammar and natural writing style in the initial email
- The email mentions a specific work
- The writer follows up upon learning my studio sales policies and shipping policies
- Signature and email relate to each other – for example Jane Doe’s email might be email@example.com
- The writer includes a phone number
- When I look up the writer in a google search, the information I find matches what they mentioned in the email
How do you tell whether that email you’ve received from your website is for real? I’ve been fortunate enough to sell a few pieces of artwork via my website. Of course more than my fair share of fraudulent or scam emails come my way too.
Recently I sold a painting to a law firm in California via an Art Consultant who contacted me through my website. Here are some photos that Art Consultant Phillip Mehas shared of the piece installed at Haynes and Boone, LLC.
Doesn’t this contemporary art complement the lobby?
Another view of the lobby and its new artwork
It pays to be cautious when dealing with unknown parties on the internet. Even though I felt pretty sure this inquiry was not a fraud, I didn’t ship the work until after the payment had cleared my bank. I handled the shipping myself and worked with the buyer to make sure it would be reasonably priced.
In this case, the consultant found my work by searching the website of the California Watercolor Association. I am a Signature Member of that group, and they link to my website. The client was searching for a watercolor, but fell in love with this work instead. It is gratifying to know that my work is making this office shine!
Check out this article by Agora Gallery on recognizing fraud or scams. While we don’t want to alienate a potential buyer, artists must always protect themselves from online scammers. Usually when I make my policies known, scammers realize that they can’t work with me and I never hear from them again.
My Basic Internet Sales Policy:
- Unless I know the buyer, I require payment by Paypal or a similar service. I do accept business of personal checks, but only for the actual amount of the sale, and I don’t ship until the check has cleared.
- I give a separate quote for shipping based on actual delivery address, or deliver if it is a local sale.
- If possible I try to speak to the buyer on the phone.
- My tone is prompt and firm, but polite.
- The buyer is encouraged to ask questions and I try my best to make sure everything is clear, from shipping to returns.
WFWS42 and WSO’s 52nd Annual Spring Exhibition
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art hosts “Pour It On! Watercolors from the West.” This exhibition features work from the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies and the Watercolor Society of Oregon.
On view from April 8 to June 19, 2017, “Pour It On!” is three shows combined into one.
Work on view explores the range of water-based media, including acrylic, casein, collage, gouache, tempera, and translucent and opaque watercolors. Here is a link to one of the paintings I’ll have in the show.
The exhibition will open with a free, public reception on Friday, April 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. I hope to see you there! Invite a friend and share this post on your favorite social media. On Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m., McGuire will lead a tour of the exhibition.
“Rust” ©Jeannie McGuire
This project has occupied my time for the last five years or so. I’m thrilled to see it coming together in such a fantastic way. Each year, a different regional member society hosts the Western Federation of Watercolor Society’s annual juried exhibition. This is the first time that the Watercolor Society of Oregon will serve as the host and we are excited to help bring this show to life.
About the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
We are grateful to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art for its support of the exhibition. The University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is a premier Pacific Northwest museum for exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art based in a major university setting. The mission of the museum is to enhance the University of Oregon’s academic mission and to further the appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts for the general public. The JSMA features significant collections galleries devoted to art from China, Japan, Korea, the Americas, and elsewhere as well as changing special exhibition galleries. Additionally, the JSMA is one of seven museums in Oregon accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA, 541-346-3027.
Watercolor Society of Oregon
To top it all off, WSO also sponsors their bi-annual Watercolor Convention in Eugene, April 7 – 9, including watercolor workshops, lectures, paint-outs and more. Ms. McGuire leads a 5 day workshop March 27th – 31st. Finally, more information is available on the WSO website: www.watercolorsocietyoforegon.com or on the WFWS website: www.wfws.org.
Learn About the Artist’s Palette
“Summer Storm II” ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 22×30″
Join me from 12-3pm on Saturday, February 25th, 2017 at the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery. You’ll have a chance to meet and visit with 4 artists: Chris Bibby, Chuck Bloom, Rachel Wolf and me.
You’ll also get to explore different wines by Chehalem Vineyards to excite your palate.
Two palettes or palates in one day! (*grins*)
I have decided to talk about my color palette… something that remains fairly consistent between the different mediums I work in: Oil, Watercolor and Acrylic. Each artists palette is as individual as a snowflake. I’ll discuss some of my favorite hues and how I use them.
One thing non-artists may not know is that in each medium, the relative properties of a pigment remain fairly consistent. For instance, Cadmium Red is an opaque (can’t see through it) pigment in watercolor, acrylic and in oil paint. Pigments can be classified as transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. They can also be synthetic or organic, staining or non-staining, pure or neutral… You’ll hear me throwing a lot of these terms around when I discuss the pigments.
I’ll also talk about choosing a mixing surface for each medium. Watercolorists often refer to this mixing surface as a palette, so it can get confusing! Throw in the palate you use to taste food and wine, and a person could get lost in the terminology. Fortunately, both color and wine provide subtle and unlimited variations of bliss.
I will bring some new work, too, so come downtown and check it out! I’m including a handy map, so you can easily navigate, and parking isn’t usually a problem in this area. I hope to see you there!
The gallery is located on SW 10th Ave at Jefferson Street, Portland, Oregon. 503-224-0674
The Artist’s Aesthetic Urge
Just after Christmas I enjoyed a woodsy walk with art buddy Randall Tipton. I casually mentioned that I hadn’t actually made art in over a month. I had been occupied with preparing for the holidays and for the big WFWS Exhibition coming up in April.
“How do you survive?” he asked. I understand the question. For artists, if we don’t get time to create, we become irritable, itchy and even sullen. Now it’s been even longer since I’ve spent time in the studio. I’ve been gathering inspiration… traveling, enjoying family and friends. My holiday hours were also spent in quasi creative pursuits: decorating the house and the tree, wrapping gifts, creating Christmas cards, writing, planning and cooking delicious meals, and crafting. At the time, these were quick, easy, attractive and even necessary things to keep my aesthetic urge at bay.
But last night I dreamed about creating. I am ready to return to the studio.
If you’re the type of artist that finds themselves constantly filling their time with quasi-creative occupations and you never actually get to the studio, perhaps you need to renew your focus. Creatives are often easily distracted from their main focus by the shiny object of a new medium, supplies, and other short-term projects. This may satisfy the creative itch temporarily, but it won’t bring lasting satisfaction. It dilutes the creative impulse.
The same sort of thing can happen with art collectors.
The Collector’s Aesthetic Urge
Art Collectors have the urge to make their spaces beautiful. That impulse can take many forms. They might rearrange the furniture, hang drapes or window coverings, or hire a decorator to beautify the space. Sometimes I see people hang anything that will fit, just to make a room complete. This often results in a visit to a big box store to purchase a print or decorative item. Once the space is filled, they sort of forget about that urge to fill it with a more meaningful piece. Yet, they are vaguely dissatisfied with their space.
The collector who acknowledges and accepts the importance of the aesthetic urge is much happier. They gradually fill their space by collecting art that is more meaningful, more personal and more original. Collectors often don’t know what they want until they see it. They don’t worry about making the room perfect. Instead, they focus only on their passion for the artwork. A room that is put together this way stands out and feels warm, unique and inviting.
“The art one chooses to collect becomes a self-portrait.”
You see, artists and collectors often face a sort of resistance born out of the fear of making a mistake. If an artist makes a mistake, they lose time and costly materials. If a collector makes a mistake, they lose money and are ‘stuck’ with something that doesn’t fit.
Both situations are easy to remedy. In the case of the artist, we begin again with renewed focus. Mistakes can even help us to better understand what we are pursuing. With the collector, they may want to ask the gallery or artist for a trial period to ensure that the art object ‘works’ in their home or office. There is no logical reason to let resistance or perfectionism hold us back.
I really enjoyed the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It helped me to focus on the art I want to make, and learn how to get out of my own way. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is another book that gets to the meat of the matter of overcoming resistance to enhance creativity and aesthetics.
If you find yourself collecting or hoarding art supplies for the ‘perfect’ project, waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to begin, or trying to find the ‘perfect’ painting for that wall, get real. Perfection does not exist on this earth. Find something you love, and give in to the aesthetic urge.
How have you overcome resistance to creating or collecting? Leave me a comment below.
Portland Open Studios – Experience Creativity
“River of Dreams” 22×15″ Acrylic on Paper, Ruth Armitage, ©2016
Join me for two weekends of Open Studio, in my beautiful Oregon City studio:
October 8th & 9th and October 15th & 16th, 2016, 10 am – 5 pm each day.
The tour is organized by neighborhood, and our own Community 8 boasts some creative and beautiful artwork. I love the fact that you can find paintings, drawings, photography, jewelry, sculpture and ceramics on this tour. Something for everyone.
Artists will be demonstrating their techniques and available to answer questions about their artwork. It is a great opportunity to meet the creators in your community, listen to them speak and see their latest body of work. I always love the opportunity to peek behind the scenes where the creation takes place. (more…)