Wednesday, December 6, 2017

338: Triggering a Transformation

–IN a previous post, I mentioned that I avoided plein air painting for three years. When I returned to the practice last summer, I was able to paint without inhibition at a much higher level of expertise. The transformation intrigued me because according to books like Outliers progress is achieved only with years of deliberate practice.

Due to the positive leap forward, which included two years painting abstractions, I wanted to understand and replicate the process. In my search for answers, I found the book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. The author, Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, explores how reductionism—the distillation of large concepts into smaller, more tractable ideas—is used by scientists and artists to pursue their respective truths. He explores explicitly how abstract art can stimulate the brain causing unexpected creative connections. Although I have yet to finish the book, it promises to explain my unexpected improvement.

After mounting two shows with a total of 38 landscape paintings, I found I not only needed a break, I also had a strong urge to trigger a similar transformation. Due to a recent and serendipitous encounter with graffiti art, I settled on painting with acrylic markers as the focus of my experimentation. The technique resembles my scratchboard work as well as my woodcuts, only much larger. I showed preliminary efforts to one of my galleries and we scheduled a show for May 2018.

 Although I'm pleased with my recent landscape progress, it isn't enough. In today's competitive environment it isn't sufficient to be one of the best painters in your genre–you have to be the ONLY painter in your genre. In other words, you have to be the only practitioner of an inimitable style. Explorations with marker painting might provide the final transformation. Do I intend to paint this way from now on? Like my foray into abstraction, I plan to use the process to transform my landscape painting. How it will do so is anyone's guess. But I look forward to the results.

I will give a full review of Reductionism in Art and Brain Science as soon as I finish it. If you want to follow my marker painting progress, please follow my Instagram account here.

Brad Teare –December 2017

Above: Cryptographica, 24" x 48", available from Alpine Art.

Monday, November 20, 2017

337: Smashing a Creative Block

–ALTHOUGH I always loved painting outdoors, my plein air work lagged far behind the authenticity of my studio work. On a good day, I could achieve an imitation of a good painting. But an absence of genuineness dogged my efforts. Even if others overlooked my plein air inadequacies, I knew I was faking it. I was using studio techniques in the field without fully immersing myself in the observational and recording process necessary to discovering nature's subtleties. I was capturing the form of the landscape but not the essence. I wondered if I could ever paint with full confidence in the field.

Over a decade ago I attended a prestigious artists residency where at the end of the day my host asked to see my field paintings. I was embarrassed they weren't better and said, "plein air painting is like fishing–sometimes you don't return with a fish." It was a sentiment I read somewhere (and it is often true), but I knew it was an excuse. I should have said, "I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm here hoping that by some path I don't understand one day I will paint successfully in the field". At the time outdoor painting seemed so complicated, I despaired that my plein air work would ever have the same vitality as my studio paintings.

After a particularly humbling effort at a well-known plein air festival in 2014, I stowed my Gloucester easel and retired my plein air credentials. Three years later I was interviewed on a podcast about my painting career and asked if I painted outdoors like the early impressionists. I explained that I had tried my hand at the art but had been frustrated by its complexity and the lack of satisfaction my efforts gave me.

I prematurely assumed it wasn't possible to paint in the field with the same confidence as in the studio–especially since my intention was to paint with thick strokes of vibrating color, exactly as I did in the studio. I consoled myself with the probability that there was a reason most painters avoided painting impasto in the field. But the desire persisted–Pissarro painted with heavy paint. So did Van Gogh. I always knew I would return to plein air painting and the interviewer's question rekindled the spark of earlier enthusiasm. 

Coincidental to these realizations, I made a breakthrough in the studio by sidestepping the issue of excellence and allowing myself to embrace mediocrity. I even taped a sign on the wall that read, "Just Be Mediocre." Paradoxically, the relaxation encouraged by such a humorously blasé attitude allowed me to paint at a higher level. Performance anxiety was apparently playing a larger role in my painting than I thought. With nearly twenty years of deliberate practice behind me, I was able to relax into a routine. Being mediocre, or performing at a routine level, was exactly what I needed to do–provided that the routine produced a satisfying painting. I shifted my focus from trying for excellence to creating paintings that allowed a sense of exploration and achieved a satisfying aesthetic effect. I also had recently read that if I displaced negative internal dialog such as "I'm really nervous" with a more positive phrase like "I'm so excited" I subverted self-destructive negativity and would achieve the emotional balance necessary to produce more satisfying work.

In the interview mentioned above, I stated that although I wasn't currently painting en plein air, it felt inevitable that someday I would. That day arrived sooner than expected. Within a few days and armed with the counterintuitive notion of just being mediocre, I ventured into the field, palette in hand and easel on my back. I found a suitable motif in a canyon within walking distance of my studio in Salt Lake City. As I set up my gear, I could feel the familiar anxiety rise. I told myself all I had to do was be mediocre–nothing more than performing at a routine level. I also told myself that I was excited, not nervous, to be in the field painting again.

The painting went well. There were moments when I felt the familiar specter of anxiety arise. I entered unknown territory and risked losing control of the painting. But I told myself that anxiety arose not from being in unknown territory but from the fear the unknown induced. I tamped down the fear with my clichéd affirmations and pressed forward. Eventually, I found the verbal part of my consciousness strangely silent as I effortlessly mixed and applied color. In that internal silence, I calmly pushed forward to a state of flow–a state I recognized accompanied my work in the studio. I had misunderstood why I painted in the field. I thought it was to record interesting and beautiful visual information for future paintings. Actually, it was to achieve the state of flow essential to producing unique expressions in paint.

I subsequently painted a half dozen large, saleable paintings within a few weeks. I wasn't faking it. Nor was I discouraged by any momentarily perceived failures. I had successfully smashed the mental block that kept me from successful plein air painting.

What is the formula for achieving plein air success? Certainly the fact I trained myself to see value was a contributing factor. Although I no longer use a value finder I used one for years in the studio and the field. Simplifying my process certainly helped. I recently started using palette knives exclusively, which in the field meant no more solvents. But above all taming the demons of fear and anxiety allowed me to move forward and harness all the techniques I use in the studio.

The irony is that my breakthrough came at the end of a three-year avoidance of plein air painting. From books I've read on achievement, this isn't the way it's supposed to work. But that is one of the hallmarks of the artist's journey–every journey is profoundly different.
(This article originally appeared in Plein Air Magazine online.)

Brad Teare –November 2017

Above: Summer Fields, 16" x 20" oil on canvas, available at Anthony's Fine Art

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

336: New video venue

–I AM just one exhibit away from being able to finish my new studio (my latest show will be this Friday, Nov 17, 2017 at Anthony's Fine Art, from 6-9). When the studio is finished I plan to start an online Udemy class featuring painting with thick, textured acrylics. I will demonstrate how to paint a landscape and an abstract using commercially available texturing mediums as well as chalk, marble dust, and a plethora of other strange and fun mediums.

Since Google banned my Youtube account, my enthusiasm for making Youtube videos has waned. You may have noticed that I haven't posted many videos lately. I'm not sure why Google banned my channel since it has over 1.5 million views, but it is certainly within their prerogative. I've since watched classes from Udemy and found them to be a great content provider. I look forward to working with them soon. I'm pleased to report that my technical test reel passed review (not easy to do) and my new Udemy videos will be considerably better than my Youtube videos.

Until my Udemy course is ready, I hope you will check out my painting classes on (click here). Curiosity has been very supportive, and it doesn't seem like they will ban my account anytime soon. Although some of the videos on Curiosity were available on Youtube that is no longer true (this is my most popular Curiosity class).

I hope you enjoy the Curiosity classes. I appreciate your support and will have some new videos soon with the more reliable, Udemy venue. Many thanks.

Brad Teare –November 2017

Above: Hidden Journey, 36" x 36", acrylic on canvas. available at Alpine Art.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

335: Varnishing a Painting

–RECENTLY I was preparing a set of paintings to send to my new gallery, the Leopold Gallery in Kansas City. To hit a tight exhibition deadline I needed to use a fast drying paint. I opted to use Gamblin's Fastmatte colors. I was very pleased with the results–all my paintings were dry in time to ship on schedule. However, as you might imagine from the name Fastmatte the colors dry with a noticeably more matte finish than their regular counterparts.

Fortunately, in addition to the Fastmatte paint I also ordered a set of Gamblin varnishes, which come in three variations: gloss, satin, and matte. Since I previously had a less than ideal experience with another brand of gloss varnish (which was excessively glossy) I opted to test the satin finish in the Gamblin brand. I was pleased that the formula went on smooth and flat with a minimum of bubbles. None of the bubbles persisted into the dried layer. See my video below to see how the satin varnish improved depth of color and value.

Additionally, there was little or no odor, which was a major plus. And my test painting was dry the next day and ready to ship which I found remarkable (note that I live in an extremely dry climate. Your experience might vary, so be sure to test drying time). Another Gamvar attribute is how it conforms to the topography of paint strokes without pooling.

I haven't tried removing the dried varnish, but the directions here say to use Gamsol and wipe off the dried Gamvar with a lint-free cloth. Another suggestion on the same page says it might be a good idea to oil out the canvas with a mixture of Gamsol and Galkyd medium before varnishing. I imagine this would give a more glossy surface but the excess gloss would be minimized with the next coat of satin Gamvar. This is the technique I will follow next time when I've planned better and have more time before shipping.

Varnishing has always been an extremely trying experience for me in the past, but it looks like Gamblin has taken away the frustration. Many thanks.

Brad Teare –October 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

334: Adding Audio to a Blog

–MANY writers have remarked on an overall drop in blog readership. This blog is no different and reflects the trend. Since May 2007 unique views have dropped nearly 50% from a peak of 17,000 monthly views. Interestingly, my views on my Youtube channel have remained constant despite not adding much content since I got banned.

I recently became aware of a new technology with the potential to revitalize sagging blog readership. The tech firm SpeechKit provides text-to-speech conversion to embed into a blog. This would allow artists to listen to the blog while pursuing other tasks. Currently, they only allow embedding in WordPress blogs but are working on universal compatibility–including Blogger.

Since I don't have a WordPress blog, I can't currently provide audio capability for my content. But these two sites have converted content you can listen to: Here is my interview concerning the meaning of my graphic novel Cypher. Here is an interview with my wife, Debra Teare, who paints trompe l'oeil paintings. If you are an enthusiast of realist painting you should give her interview a listen.

In the first example, the player is embedded in the copy at the head of the page. In the second example, the player is viewable at the bottom of the page and maintains its position despite scrolling. Both variations work well on my iPhone. I think I prefer the second variation but let me know of your experience. Also, there are anomalies, which are typical of AI narration, like the drop caps not being pronounced, and a few other oddities. But overall I think the technology is quite good and much better than any alternatives I've tried. Let me know what you think.

Brad Teare –September 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

333: 9 Steps to Instagram Success

–MY favorite social media platform is Instagram (if you want to see painting updates click here). Many assume that internet sales are a common occurrence, but they are rare. Yet I've sold several paintings solely from Instagram. I'm followed by several nationally esteemed galleries who occasionally make comments and hit the like button, which is a great boost. More importantly, I secured representation in two galleries from exposure on Instagram. These relationships seem more natural than professional relationships formed via traditional methods like cold-calling galleries or sending portfolios.

In the communication revolution, those who communicate best prevail. If that's true, and I believe it is, what are the hallmarks of an Instagram feed that communicates well? Here are nine ideas:

1). Authentiticty– Authenticity means being yourself. Present your best self but refrain from mythologizing or tweaking reality. Most people easily discern honesty, especially when contrasted to the inauthenticity so frequent in modern culture.

2). Clarity– If you can't think clearly, you can't communicate clearly. Self-education is the cheapest, easiest, and best remedy–and it's available to all. A good book for starters (although it is not complete by any means) is Elements of Style.

3). Focus– Focus is essential to any success. Define what you want to communicate and stay on target. I have a two-strikes rule about posting food items. If your daily painting feed suddenly has what you are drinking for breakfast, it dilutes your message. Some people have a philosophy of posting occasional images that humanize their feed and introduce a personal side. I see the logic of that strategy. But don't overdo it with irrelevant images.

4). Warmth– I probably err on the side of being too impersonal. My feed could probably benefit from adding a few more personal images showing me painting in the field or at the easel. These images allow your followers to get an inside glimpse into who you are. Such images also allow followers to recognize you at painting events or gallery shows.

5). Clear Profile Page–  Instagram should have a more customizable profile page. For example, they only allow one link which seems pointless. You will need to be creative to make the severe profile limitations work. Keep your profile message concise. I thought the business option would possibly remedy profile limitations, but my impression was that it simply funneled views into Facebook (Instagram is unfortunately owned by Facebook). If your experience with the business option is better, please leave a comment.

6). Identity– Enabling people to find you is critical. I'm lucky–I have a short and unique last name. Always use your real name as your Instagram moniker if possible. Alternatives include using a middle name or initials. Only as a last resort use a slogan or random moniker. Some people will find a humorous or culturally freighted nickname irritating and might unfollow. I've read that adding hashtags is a good way to add identity to your posts but frankly I have not discovered how it is useful. If you understand how hashtags actually work please post a comment.

7). Evolve– Allow your feed to evolve without over editing past images. Your feed allows your followers to track your artistic journey. There are images I wish I had left in my feed and others that I might delete. Be aware that you are creating a visual journal and curate accordingly.

8). Personality– Don't edit or curate to the point of eliminating your personality. One of my favorite artists is creating a daily sketchbook and accompanies the image with creative writing–sometimes a couple of paragraphs. Such long entries are not my style, but they work perfectly with her sketches, and she has many followers. 

9). Graphic flair– I try to shake up my feed occasionally with an animated image (I occasionally use Ripl to create an animated poster for a show). I use an em-dash and all caps for the first word at the beginning of posts, like on my blog. And I keep written descriptions short. I feel such uniformity allows followers to have a sense of familiarity, like a corporate brand, as they view each post.

I'm hardly an Instagram expert and am constantly looking for ways to improve my Instagram communications. I invite you to view my Instagram feed here. If you have additional ideas, please comment. Many thanks.

Brad Teare –August 2017

Above: Autumn Color, 36" x 36", oil on canvas, available at Anthony's Fine Art

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

332: Keeping Your Studio Safe

THE best insurance is taking measures to keep ourselves safe and healthy. To comply with that belief I recently made several adjustments to my studio process.

One of the reasons for my increased vigilance was learning about a well-known artist who developed a serious toxicity issue from getting oil paints on his skin. Over time the absorption of paint on his hands built to a toxic level. I have since opted to use gloves while painting. I was fortunate to find two types I really like.

My favorite is this brand variation which has a textured surface that allows sweat to evaporate. This is especially critical when working outside. The gloves are robust and can withstand multiple uses, so are a great value. I don't necessarily like the blue color so when I'm making a video or where I might be photographed I prefer these black gloves. It took time to get used to working with gloves, but once I did I prefer them while painting. It provides health benefits of course, but it's also great not worrying about the mess and subsequent clean-up.

I built a log cabin in 1976 when I was 18, and in 1997 I accidentally burned it down. Thankfully no one was hurt, and financial loss was minimal. Yet the experience was traumatic. I can't imagine what others face when the outcome is more serious. Because of my experience, I keep a fire extinguisher and a fire-resistant trash can near my easel. Oil soaked rags are one of the primary causes of studio fires (read about cases of spontaneous combustion in studios herehere and here). The minor expense of a fire-proof trash can and an extinguisher will prevent greater cost and heartache later on. I highly advise these two additions to your studio.

Keeping a solvent free studio by using palette knives (read more about my switch to palette knives here) or using a low-evaporating solvent like Gamsol are other ways to keep your painting environment safe. Additionally be sure to keep your Gamsol in an air-tight container. Most artist containers for solvents will leak over time as the seal wears out so be sure to check the seal occasionally.

If you have additional ways to increase health and safety in the studio I hope you will leave a comment.

Brad Teare– August 2017

Above: State of the Arch, 24' x 24', available at Anthony's Fine Art.

Monday, August 14, 2017

331: The Cure for Bad Art

–THE poet Alexander Pope, describing the slippery slope of degraded expectation wrote, "vice is a monster of such frightening mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen. But seen too oft and familiar with her face, we first pity, then endure, then embrace."
Cottonwood Creek, 24" x 36"

The sentiment is as true today as it was in Pope's time. But there seem few who understand how enduring bad art, generally thought to be a virtue, can erode the foundations of civil society. Freedom is vital for the creation of art and no artist I know advocates censorship. But because of our voluntary restraint from censorship, we have an increased obligation to shape our culture by supporting great art.

Mark Helprin is one of the greatest writers of our time. But because he is out of step with post-modern ideology he has been nearly ignored by the popular media. His career has suffered and he can't support himself solely from his novels. Because I think more books like his should be written, I just pre-ordered his latest book, Paris in the Present Tense. I could save money by waiting to buy a used copy, checking it out from the library, or buying the ebook. But by pre-ordering the more expensive hardback, I signal the market that I love his work and want more work of similar quality.

If we use our purchasing power to support great artists, we become patrons of the art we love. If we see the same movies others consume we have no right to suppose we are independent thinkers. If we read the same books others read we think the same thoughts others are thinking. If we consume the same entertainment the masses devour we deny ourselves exposure to the unique expressions of unique minds.

I challenge myself to seek out and encourage artists I deem worthy of support. By doing so, I curtail thoughtless expenditures on valueless fads.

Don't pity bad art. Don't endure bad art. And certainly, do not embrace it.

Brad Teare August 2017

Above: Cottonwood Creek, 24" x 36", oil on canvas, available at Anthony's Fine Art

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

330: My favorite palette knives

–AS promised I finally put together a video outlining all of my favorite palette knives (see below). I'm using all palette knives now and am enjoying not cleaning brushes nor using solvents–which is especially nice in the field.

Here is a numbered, paragraph-by-paragraph description of each palette knife I mention in the video, plus links:

1. Blunt nose, small palette knife: This is my most favorite knife. It holds a lot of paint and you can maneuver into small spaces, pushing lots of paint into an area fast.

2. Long, pie-shaped palette knife: This is good to make flat lines, both with the end, dragging the color off the tip, and touching the broad side to the canvas with a light touch to create a line.

3. Ginko leaf-shaped palette knife: This knife will move a lot of paint yet give lots of various marks, both from the side and the tip. It is great for blending between patches of color as well as softening or removing excess texture.

4. Round palette knife: This will do a lot of what the Ginko leaf-shaped knife will do, and it has a bit more flexibility, which helps to make a softer blend.

5. Spatula paint scraper: I use these to get paint out or paint cans (it helps keep the surface flat as you pull the color out thus slowing drying). But I also use them as paint erasers. I simply scrape the canvas with these with the blunt ends to pull off the errant paint strokes.

6. Flared, blunt Japanese palette knife: This is great for blending and making leaf-shaped marks. Like all the Japanese knives in this set, it has a very stiff blade which requires a softer touch.

7. Flat, serrated Japanese palette knife: I use the tip of this knife to blend edges that are too hard. That is, where the value of contiguous shapes is too divergent. Using this can give a very chaotic edge.

8. Broad, square serrated palette knife: This is similar to the previous knife, but the blade is more flexible (I haven't found an online source yet).

9. Small, broad pie-shaped palette knife: This moves a lot of paint but has a less blunt tip.

10. Thin, square palette knife: This is great for making flat tipped shapes like fence posts and details on architecture. You can make any palette knife a blunt tipped palette knife by cutting the tip off with a pair of tin snips. This is handy if you want a set of knives with differing widths.

11. Small spatula palette knife: Good for creating broad, flat blends (I haven't found an online source yet).

12. Large spatula palette knife: Same as above but on a larger scale. Note: this is actually a spatula for cooking, but it works just as good as an artist's knife but is cheaper.

13. Brush-like, serrated Japanese palette knife: This is a stiff blade that is great for blending edges and creating jagged blends.

14: Pie-shaped, serrated Japenese palette knife: Much like the above but having a broader swathe. Good for infusing texture into a blank patch of paint.

15. Thin, knife-shaped palette knife: Great for making branches, or other linear marks (I haven't found an online source as yet).

16. Small, pie-shaped palette knife: This is like palette knife #1 above but with a more linear mark making tip.

17. Large, serrated Japanese palette knife: I'm not entirely sure what to do with this one but it is so cool I have to have it in my kit. If you don't have a palette knife you will never discover what it might be used for.

18. Flat nosed, serrated palette knife: This is good for making very subtle brush-like textures. (I haven't found an online source for this as yet).

19. Canvas scraper: This is good for sgraffito techniques (scrapping into wet paint) which I use to reveal the underpainting in selects areas.

Let me know if you know of any other interesting knives.

Brad Teare –July 2017

Above painting: Road Near Avon, 20" x 20", available at Anthony's Fine Art

Friday, June 23, 2017

329: My Favorite Palette Knife

–I recently switched over to using palette knives for the entirety of my painting process. I cross-examined my motives, as I can embrace ideas for the wrong reasons at times (like laziness). But in this case, I think using palette knives exclusively makes sense, and I will definitely be open to using brushes in the future if my experiment with palette knives doesn't prove satisfying. Using palette knives makes for quick cleanup. So far I've been able to replicate every stroke I make with brushes. Getting solvents out of the studio is also a huge bonus.

I use a wide range of knives, but several have proven to be favorites, especially when painting a medium size canvas (although I use these on the details of larger canvases as well). The first is a small blunt-nosed knife that is perfect for quickly laying in broad detail. I prefer a similar shape for larger paintings (the large, blunt pie-shaped knife in this set). These knives are the workhorses of my current painting process. Some shapes, like really long, flexible, pie shaped knives I have yet to figure out what they are good for. In time I may figure out what to do with them (leave a comment if you know).

One of my all-time favorites is a Gecko leaf shaped knife that is so versatile I find myself using it for huge passages of my paintings, large or small. I use the broad edge for laying in paint quickly, and the flared edges for adding small detail like fence posts and branches. The broad edge is great for blending patches of color together. I often load the knife with another knife (usually the small, blunt variety mentioned above). I hold the blunt knife in my left hand and swipe some multi-varied color onto it from the palette and apply the paint onto the Ginko leaf shaped knife in my right hand. It's an amazingly versatile tool, and by loading it, I can get a wide range of beautifully variegated color. I hope to do a video of this technique soon.

Brad Teare –June 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

328: The Mystery of Plein Air Painting

–"YOU can't till you can" sounds like a quip from baseball's low-brow philosopher Yogi Bera. But it's actually a quote from über-intellectual and color theorist Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. What he meant is that there is often an inexplicable alchemy that, after a long duration, allows you to do what you previously couldn't.

I recently crossed into that territory with my plein air paintings after a long dry spell. People were kind to me, telling me that my plein air paintings were fine. But in my gut, I knew the paintings lacked some essential ingredient. So how did I close the gap between my studio and my plein air paintings? Did I dive intently into painting in the field creating painting after painting without regard to success? Did I study everything I could find about the subject until I couldn't cram anything else into my brain?

I took none of those reasonable steps. I basically failed at a plein air event in the summer of 2014 and didn't do another plein air painting until a week ago. I didn't practice, study, or think about plein air painting in any way. Until waking up one day last week and walking up a nearby canyon with my plein air gear I had experienced zero success with plein air painting–because I made no attempt to succeed. But that evening I set up my easel and with effort as easy as breathing I knocked out a passable painting, large for a field painting, as if I had been painting en plein air for a decade.

I mention this transformation because I haven't read of any parallels in the success literature I tend to peruse. Plus, I like narratives that contravene convention. Plus, I'm thrilled, if mystified, by my transformation. In the end, art is more magic than science, more alchemy than chemistry. I'm thankful for that.

In the following video, I make a few corrections to my plein air painting. Here is a link to the clips I use to transport my paintings.

Brad Teare –June 2017

View from City Creek, plein air, 24" x 24", oil on canvas, available at Anthony's Fine Art


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