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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.
Oregon has had its share of ice this winter, and I took advantage of this unusual weather to do a bit of ice crystal painting.
I wet a sheet of 300 lb. Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, took it outside into the freezing cold, and dropped fluid acrylics and acrylic inks onto the surface, allowing the ice crystals to form patterns on the paper as they solidified. Then I brought it inside and kind of forgot about it, until it was time to do a demonstration for a local watercolor group.
Here is what my ‘start’ looked like after it dried. It’s hard to see in this image, but the paint dried in a crystalized pattern in some of the thinner areas. I love the lacy texture it left in different areas of the work.
1 – transparent colors work better
2 – the paint and ink need to be slightly watery.
This detail image shows part of the painting that has ice crystal formations
I thought I’d share a few in process shots that my friend Liz Walker took during the demonstration. As I worked, I was thinking about my childhood experiences at the local swimming hole on our property. I added calligraphy using a water soluble crayon, and started putting in shapes and color variation. One of my goals was to keep the color changes fairly subtle.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight — but never stop fighting.” — e.e. cummings
Finally I started adding small detail using an acrylic marker.You can see some of the areas in the detail shots below.
And I started varying the color more! Jeez – This doesn’t look at all subtle!
Here is how the painting looked at the end of the demonstration.
When I took a look at it this week, I decided that the top 1/3 of the painting needed to be simplified and lightened. Here’s how it looks now! I hope you’ll try ice crystal painting next time you encounter some freezing weather! I’d love to hear your thoughts on seeing the process. Questions and comments are welcome.
“Jump” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 30×22″
Mist and Moss: new work from the studio
“Mist and Moss” Watermedia on Paper, 30×22″
One of the things I loved about growing up on the farm was that nature was always there to explore. Although I know it is hard to believe now, I was a quiet child. When I was struggling with something, my favorite way to cope was to walk in the forest or sit by a small stream or ditch and observe nature.
Some of my favorite poetry evokes this calming spirit:
“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS” BY WENDELL BERRY
My most recent painting was an attempt to recreate the feeling of soft fog, mist and moss, without actually rendering a pond, a stream or a fallen log. I wanted the feeling of many interconnected organisms breathing life into a forest. The water, the trees, the animals, the fungi as one breathing unit. Because I wanted the feeling of flowing water, I chose to use a high horizon line as my design.
I hope you will enjoy this peek into my process. I’m using watercolor to begin, and then adding gouache (opaque watercolor) and a bit of Golden High Flow Acrylic. I also mixed in a bit of iridescent pigment by Jacquard. I love the subtle sparkle!
I’d be interested in your feedback on this video. Do you find it valuable? I wish that my setup would allow me to film in the orientation that I imagined the painting, but it was much easier to work horizontally on my table. I decided not to attach music to the video, as I couldn’t find a piece that expressed what I wanted to say with the painting.
If you find it interesting, leave me a comment or a question! Or share this with a friend or on your favorite social media outlet.
Couldn’t everyone use a little balm of Mist and Moss during this chaotic season?
“Mist and Moss” Abstract Watercolor Process with Ruth Armitage from Ruth Armitage on Vimeo.
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…)
a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
“Crucible” ©Ruth Armitage Acrylic on Paper 15×22″
Each experience in our lives produces its own alchemy. This painting arose out of a contour drawing of my two dogs, Red & Lola. I’ve integrated them into the painting to the point that they disappear, and the painting has become something else entirely. The title has been in my head for months, relating to an experience that was intense and frustrating.
I feel like the close color range of reds, violets and orange speak to the theme of a crucible of heat. I like the angular pivot points near the center, and the light blue line work that morphs into shape. It has been a busy summer, and this painting reminds me a bit of the intense heat and activity. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather and more regular schedule of fall!
View it in person when it’s on display at the Portland Open Studios Preview show: September 17th at Basic Space Gallery, 625 NW Everett St #111, Portland, Oregon. 503-477-6452
Save the Date: Portland Open Studios – October 8th & 9th and 15th & 16th, 2016 10-5 each day. Get your tour guide at any New Seasons Market, from any participating artist, or at select Art Supply Retailers.