The Rise Painting Parties and the Dangers of DIY

In recent years the art community has seen a rise in what you might call a “painting party.” For many small business groups, it’s the concept of a single night’s painting class in which a group of adults all paint a simple design while enjoying a bottle of wine or other beverage to relax. Thees BYOB nights have popped up all around the country and what started small has become a national phenomenon. However, with more and more people signing up for these events, I have to wonder about the long term implications of what might happen to artists and art as a whole. 

What does excite me about the opportunity these events bring to communities is how it opens new doors for many people and teaches them that they can be creative even if they have never thought of themselves as such before. In opening up new people to the world of art, it has begun to build their confidence in understanding the visual arts as well as being able to relate to artists rather than admire or gawk at them from a distance. However this understanding I believe can come at a high cost if we’re not careful. With the confidence to just paint something for yourself, these avid creators may not find the need to support and collect works from working professionals and skilled hobbyists anymore. 

Art should always feel accessible and “fun” for the creator, but this type of relaxing fun at these “painting parties,” cannot and should not take the place of fine art in our communities. In the mid 20th century there was a rise in the DIY culture for remodeling homes in suburban America. In most cases it became the norm to tackle large carpentry or interior designs to improve one’s home and lifestyle. These days hardware stores market themselves on this principle and it’s become integrated in our culture today. However out of the DIY movement came a slew of problems. Not all remodeling can be considered DIY, especially a number of electrical and plumbing projects, which have often plagued the average Do It Yourselfer and caused thousands of poorly designed and constructed homes across the country. 

So what does this have to do with painting parties? To put it simply when the visual arts are pushed into the DIY world, everyone suffers. If people reach a point where they decorate their homes with their own attempts at fine art, while at the same time moving forward with the mentality of “I can just make my own, I don’t need to buy something,” then the visual fine artist will go extinct. To limit the arts to simply something that can be done on a Friday evening for a couple hours, is to cause serious harm to the global art community and our culture as a whole. The dumbing down of painting in this case into the “party” mentality can potentially rob our society of the culture of great art; and in its place build an anarchy of DIY “arts and crafts.” 

However, this isn’t to say these party events are all bad. As I began, creating a fresh and engaged group of creative adults is something our culture is in desperate need of. The more and more people become engaged in the act of creating (in whatever form it takes), the more we will see a surge in the education and respect for the fine arts which could grow exponentially. I don’t feel that we are in either side of these extremes as of yet, however the dark side of them could easily overtake the culture not check on every now and then. As these types of businesses and events continue to flourish, it’s everyone’s responsibility not to simply limit our view of the visual fine arts. While the painting process is fun and rewarding it’s more than just something that takes a few hours while sipping on a glass of Merlot in a building that was once a pizza shop. Instead these events should be using the creative outlet to build up our desire for the beauty and aesthetics of work created by professionals and skilled hobbyists working in the field today.

5 Things I Learned From Taking A Year Off

Looking back 2017 was a rather interesting year. Cinder Block Studios as both a personal career and as a brand has gone through many changes. The largest of which was my big move into a new studio and living space. It was in late 2016 it was confirmed that I would be buying a place of my own so from the start I knew that I would be taking a break from art shows and market sales for a while, and honestly I’m really glad I did! In previous years I had built to doing about one show ever 5 or 6 weeks, with some overlap with long term exhibitions. It was an incredible high that I rode for a solid two years, but even after those two years started winding down I was starting to feel a little burnt out. I knew that I needed to step back and work on my art, and really think about my process and my products as a whole. I needed time to work on my skills, and not just be in constant promotion mode. So with the move underway by late February of 2017, I focused my energy toward straight production, and rebuilding new work habits in the new studio space.

Very quickly I was able to rediscover how much I really loved to work on new paintings. For much of 2016 and part of 2015, I had painted about half of my new inventory’s work of projects live at various shows. I do really enjoy the live painting experience, however it does involve me traveling with a limited set of colors and brushes, which often leads to some frustrating moments at these events. In addition to the limited tool set, my focus is also half in the painting and half on the show, which often hurts the quality of the work produced. So, having the time and tools I needed for a full year of paintings was such a welcomed relief. Focusing back on my own skill, technique, and style and forcing myself to push the limits of what I had made for myself in previous years was a truly rewarding experience.

Another thing I noticed was that the constant highs and lows I get from art shows are very tiring. It’s really easy to get into a slump of not wanting to work, so without the constant push to those extremes I could more easily created when I wasn’t feeling into it, and create really incredible stuff when I was!

As I mentioned already the need for constant promotion was a nice reprieve, however I would say that art marketing doesn’t stop when you’re not at shows, it merely changes. Rather than in person and one-on-one conversations with patrons, I found that the marketing concepts get broader to encompass a wider online audience. Granted I’ve been promoting my work online for years, but I did find that I was seeking out conversations online that I was used to having in person. In many ways that’s a good thing. It’s important to be able to talk to other artists about your work and theirs in a collaborative fashion. If you remain bottled up in the studio, and don’t take the time to go and talk with artists, then your work can very easily become stale. Filling your head with new ideas CAN be done online, but it shouldn’t be limited to doing so. With online interactions though I was faced with the challenge of bringing that level of interaction, engagement, and curiosity to the artist and fans of my work around the world.

A big change I made was also with my level of organization. Having the extra time on my hands away from shows let me rebuild and reorganize my inventory to make it both easier for me, and easier for others to browse through my art, and my video library. By doing show after show after show, I found that the amount of “new” work I had for each show was very small. For the few shows I did do, however, I was able to collect dozens of new works (and a few old ones) to create a much more compelling presentation. Going forward in 2018 I think it will be important to pick and choose shows in order to keep my production up, my skills sharp, and my joy of the creating process alive and thriving.

So yeah it’s been a busy past year, and I found that more than anything life gets in the way. A lot! So it really is about how much you want it. Art that is. How much do you want to make stuff? If the desire is strong enough you’ll find the time. That thought is actually what made me want to take art more seriously in college. I had less time in college than I did in high school so I had to really plan on when I painted. Now it’s the same challenge over again. Live is busy. My day job, my home, and my day to day needs keep me VERY busy, so when I paint I can escape from those things into new and unique worlds. It’s my hope that this idea of “escapism” is what my art conveys to all of you. We all have stuff we deal with everyday, so why not take at least a few minutes and escape into a fantasy world!

What about you guys? How did you grow in 2017? And what will you plan for this year (2018) to take your work to the next level?

The Immersive Education within Art Materials

The idea behind this is actually very simple, but I often find many artists that don’t take the time to learn about their pencils, pens, paint, etc. which I find to be a massive oversight in their art education. For someone like me it was always intuitive to learn about new materials, but I’ve found over time that I am in the minority in that regard.

However, I don’t feel like it’s a “you have it or you don’t” mentality. Instead the desire to learn about your materials is something that for myself and for others I imagine develops over time. Early on in your artistic lives we just want to make art (which is very important part for sure) however you at some point will feel limited by a medium’s capabilities. At this point you can (and to some degree should at least for a time) change media, and learn more about other techniques, but again you may find yourself hitting mental walls.

So, how would one get out of such a rut? Thinking about what types of materials you use, and how you might use them more effectively I feel is where this exploration begins. Something like my choice acrylic paint for example has a lot more to it than what might be first understood. High quality acrylics are made from a polymer emulsion, water, and pigment. Lower quality paints add more fillers and water in place of more concentrated pigment loads. Then depending on the individual pigment it will determine the price of the paint, its opacity, its tint strength, and its glossiness. Then subsequently learning about pigments can allow you to start seeing the limitations as well as the limitless possibilities a single color can have. Not to mention how one pigment can be called by several names across brands, viscosities, and individual media (ie. oil, acrylic, watercolor).

While all of this may sound complex it is the core from of education that I have pursued in the past few years that has continued to drive my worth further and further. Breaking down my understanding of transparent vs. opaque acrylics as well as the subtle difference in hue between pigments is transforming my use of color and composition in every painting. Sure it’s not helping something like my line quality or rendering skills, but the understanding of what the paint can do even further than I already understand it brings about new ideas every single day.

For acrylics I’ve found that many paint manufactures take a great deal of care in showing off their products. Not only because they’re wanting you to buy them, but because for a creator of professional materials like Golden, they really care about artists creating the best work that they can. It was actually Golden’s Youtube Channel, which first introduced me to acrylic gels and mediums (a discovery that at the time transformed my work entirely). For nearly 10 years prior I just didn’t really understand my paint, but when I started putting the time in to researching it, I began to see new ideas for paintings erupting in my imagination.

For companies like Golden, Liquitex, Blick, Utrecht, Faber-Castell and many others, the promotion of new and interesting products doesn’t just sell product but it inspires artists to create something new.

If you do nothing else this week artistically, start looking into the composition, the production of, and the possibilities of your materials, and I can guarantee you’ll find new techniques and ideas right around the corner!

The Amplification of Reality

About at month ago I was sitting in the studio pondering the concept of creating art, when I was struck with a rather profound thought. “Art is the process of amplifying reality in order to create an emotional response.” For a long time I wanted to build this idea into a live show, but there isn’t much here for that. Thus, I will expand on the concept here.

While this isn’t meant to take the place of my “What is Art” post, it instead should supplement it and give you greater insight into the creative mind. So what about this concept of “amplified reality.” Think about it logically for a moment. Whether we’re talking 2D or 3D, Traditional or Digital, Contemporary or Historical; art in every age, medium, and style from abstract to realism seeks to mimic and amplify reality into something profound. Even absolute photorealistic painters understand this very well. A brush stroke at it’s very core imitates reality. To imitate something and make it seem believable you often are using techniques to trick the brain into processing images into different emotional states.

Take for example optical illusions, most famously the work of M.C. Escher. Much of his work while yes is mathematical, still needs to have a visually artistic and aesthetic portion to seem relatable to the human eye. Escher’s work is primarily architectural and he knew how to bend the visual rules in order to change the perception of reality. Looking at one of his works you are forced to debate in your own mind if such a structure is even possible in the first place. Just when you feel confidant you’ve figured it out, your eye tells your brain it’s wrong again.

For a painter it’s often about using brighter or duller colors to create a mood within a painting. Such a mood of color, paired with complex psychological color theory, triggers the viewer in and emotional response of anything from joy to anger and everything in between. Scientifically speaking a painting is just an image and an image by itself doesn’t have meaning. However, as culturally educated humans, we give meaning to color, shapes, symbols, and forms that both as artists and viewers create a connection within the image.

Abstract art takes what is already familiar and distorts it. An abstract reality is distorted from one emotion and often works to make us feel another. Abstract landscape painters are often understand this well. Using texture in their paintings rather than details on the forms, they can manipulate emotion through movement. A textured horizon line in red and yellow, can be just as impactful as a details in a sunset if executed properly.

So I say it again... “Art is the process of amplifying reality in order to trigger an emotional response.” Let your art not simply be something that imitates reality, but enhances it in your own unique way. Being able to amplify, enhance, and interpret the world as you see it and then turn it outward to create art, is the core of being an artist.

Tutorial Addiction and the Pitfalls of Social Improvement

Ok, so you’ve got your 700 Photoshop brush packs from your favorite artists, you’ve downloaded all the free eBooks, you’ve got a black hole of bookmarks in your web browser, and a folder of 10,000 inspirational images. You’re ready for some serious artwork! Except you have no idea how to even begin a drawing or painting. “Wait, I’ve got all the resources at my finger tips don’t I? That’s the glory of the internet and social media! All my friends love my sketches and tell me what a great artist I am, but all I do is sketch on my homework and draw fan art of my favorite anime characters. Why can’t I just start a drawing?” Two words my friends, “Tutorial Addiction.”

This phrase came to me earlier this week and it’s been really festering in my mind. Even I fall prey to the illusion of social improvement, being both an avid watcher of art videos on YouTube and a creator of them too. However, at the end of the day everything still comes down to actually making something. This is where many young (and even old) artists get stuck. You think that after one tutorial you’re ready to create a masterpiece, and when your piece turns out less than expected you get frustrated. “Hey I watched the tutorial and understood it, why can’t I do it like they can?”

This is the difference between having resources, and properly utilizing them. Following a tutorial and doing the demonstration only goes so far. The catalyst for true improvement happens when you apply what you learned to your art and build up your own techniques based on what other artists have done. When you apply the concept behind your favorite paintings, matched with knowledge of the artists that came before you, then and only then can you start to improve your work.

The idea of social improvement through your art community isn’t a bad thing. I would sound like a complete hypocrite if I was trying to imply such a thing. However, focusing on your community rather than your own work can stint your growth as a creative individual. Additionally, hording resources doesn’t help you either. Having great tools only goes as far as your experience and skills. If you still don’t have a grasp on the human figure, no fancy Photoshop technique or type of pencil will help you master it (only time and determination will).  If you spend the majority of your time finding tutorials instead of creating art, then what you will master is your office skills not mastery of drawing.

Sure tutorial addiction isn’t quite as nasty as say substance addiction, but it is something that plagues many artists. At the end of the day, however, you work is more important than simply a bundle of free tutorials and inspirational images. Having a love for creating art is always the first stage in improving it. You have to love to create regardless of the quality of the finished product. You have to make the time to create your work too. Maybe you’re a busy student, maybe a single parent with a love for creative projects. Maybe you’re single and work 2 jobs to pay off your college loans. Regardless of your situation your time is precious, so finding the time for your art should be just as important as your day to day life. Create a schedule for drawing or painting if you have to. MAKE the time if your art is something you truly care about and want to improve on. When you have the time then you can work on your art and once you finish a project, start another piece learning from your mistakes on the last one.

What are your thoughts on this concept of “tutorial addiction?” Are you an addict yourself, or have you broken free of your chains of doubt? Join in the conversation about it in the comments below.

Infectious Creativity

“Infectious Creativity: The Key to a Successful Art Career”

To begin, I will give you this premise to consider: “Love your art until it becomes infectious!” This concept came out of a conversation I had with a friend and fellow artist early last month, but has stuck with me in principle. This concept of an infectious form of creativity is what I believe to be the driving force of what makes an artist successful or not.

The more I thought about it the more it seemed to ring true for my work, and the work of those artists that I admire. Creating your art should always start as a passion for something you love. For most artists that is what creating art is. However, in the process of being self-taught or taught in a rigorous program, it can be very easy to lose your passion for creation in the pursuit of perfection. While it is vitally important to your success to refine your skills and pursue mastery of the fundamentals, if you forget why you love creating in the process, then you will have lost the most important part of being an artist.

This idea of loving to create, and loving what you do, is what makes all successful artists stand out to us. While yes, the beautiful images they create are also important, ask yourself how many grumpy artists you follow? Would you want to learn from an artist who is indifferent about their work? Or how about an artist that hates everything they do? Ok, there is a certain sense of creative humility and realization that ever artist has, in knowing that their work needs improvement. However, if they continue to say “I suck, I suck, I suck,” then you as the fan will also start to think they suck as well. If you the artist are not passionate about the work you create, then what hope do your fans have to love the work that you do?

This is really the idea I want to drive home for all of you. Love what you do. Painting, drawing, writing, composing, whatever your creative outlet is do it because you love it FIRST, then worry about marketing and making money. Forget about client work. Forget what kind of art your friends and family like. Make art for yourself, because you love to! Maybe that sounds a bit selfish, but when you become crazy passionate about your work and your process, then other people will be excited to see, read, or hear your next great masterpiece! Yes, the first impression of a great piece of art brings people in, but what keeps them coming back is that they know you are an artist in love with creating.

It is only when we love to create that our passions infect others with creativity to create something of their own. Success isn’t a dollar amount. It’s not a number of shows or a single great piece of art. No, success is about community! It’s about sharing your creative love with the world, and having of the world answer back with their own unique creations. So in case you forgot along the way, “Love your art until it becomes infectious,” and then you will truly be successful.

I don't know who you are...Sorry.

So in looking back across the blog page here on the site I realized I haven't posted anything in nearly a year. Well, here's a post from another account of mine elsewhere from a few months ago, that I had forgotten about:

Like most of my posts, today I just want to get something off of my chest. While I was at a recent art show I ran into a number of my fellow artists, and as always we begin to talk about our ventures in the art world. One such friend (which will go nameless for various reasons) expressed to me the awkward displeasure of having someone recognize you, without you the artist knowing who they are. This I find to be a common problem among artists as well as any other public figure. In fact, I was reminded of my time in Catholic Seminary, when parishioners would know who I was without me knowing who they are.  

From the artist’s perspective, we are meeting fans and patrons of our work. Based on the artist, this may be easier, or harder, for some to remember a name or face. Either way though... they know you, but you don’t know them.

For me, this happens a lot online as well. While I may enjoy the conversations with many aspiring artists, there are very few of them who I will remember by name. On DeviantArt I’m lucky enough to recognize a user’s avatars, instead of their username. Youtube is just the same. I am of course operating on my best intentions, but sometimes I lose track of everyone.

So my point for today, is really a concern that I do wish more fans and patrons of the arts would recognize. Put simply, it’s that we (as artists) meet a lot of people, and can’t be expected to remember everyone. While it is very easy for a single person or a group to know one person, it is much harder for a single person to know all the members of a group. In regards to my seminary days...a church of people, will know a priest, deacon, or seminarian by name, but that person won’t know the names of 500+ people.

In general, I ask that you don’t hold the artist accountable for knowing your name, wanting to be friends, or treating you with anything more than awkward respect they already give you. Please, it’s hard enough already.

What is Art? Really?

No, really. What really is the distinction between art and non-art? It is not an easy question to answer. In fact it may be easier to answer indirectly. Rather than trying to wrap our heads around what can be considered art, we should first think about what art isn’t. So, in trying to understand an abstract philosophical concept like art, it would only make sense to do so.

Let me start by making one simple clarification. Art IS NOT EVERYTHING. This is what many artists and fans of the arts seem to say when the feel they have learned a thing or two about art. The truth is that without a distinction then what IS consider art will lose all value. Put simply…if everything is art then nothing is special and if nothing is special then nothing is art. It’s a bit of a paradox of creation and execution of the craft, but the meaning holds. If we consider every creative act and every result of that act a piece of art, then what is to say that any of it should be considered worth the time of the creator or the fan of such a project. While we may consider a great piece of art something special, if everything is given the same attention, then nothing will stand out to be considered great.

We should also discuss the concept of creativity and how it also is not the balance point on which all art is or is not created. Many people either think that they are not creative, but in truth they really just haven’t learned to harness their naturally creative side, or do not recognize it in action. First let’s look at those who haven’t learned to harness their creativity. Art is not the only creative field out there, and I’m not just talking about music either. In fact the fields of the sciences (in any capacity) are deeply creative fields. As discussed by Adam Savage at his keynote at SXSW this year, the act of coming up with a hypothesis isn’t always as simple as it seems. The example given was from an episode of his long running show on the Discovery Channel “Mythbusters.” Does someone walking or running in the rain get more or less wet? What sounds like a simple premise becomes more complicated when you start finding a way to test it, especially when knowing after a certain period of time you can’t get any wetter. Ok so what does this have to do with creativity and art? Put simply that just because the outcome may not be fancy or expected, that doesn’t make it any less creative. Maybe you’re not working toward an artistic masterpiece or a brilliant orchestral score, but the act of creating something or more accurately creative problem solving isn’t so elusive. Creative thinking is not exclusive to the arts and it never has been. If you can solve a word problem in math class then you can certainly be creative in whatever field you choose. You may not recognize your creativity, but I can guarantee that whether you’re at work or enjoying your favorite hobby, that you too are creative. 

Let us also have a look at those who may not know how to harness their creativity as of yet. This is often a very frustrating situation to be in, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to be. Finding your creative field can be as simple as playing a game. As actor and internet activist Wil Wheaton has become a voice for content creators around the web, his model of sharing his work and life has become a way for many creators both young and old to understand what it means to be a gamer. Again you may ask yourself what this has to do with art. Wheaton often expresses his love for games and how creative traditional roll-playing games can be. For him games are about building important relationships both with friends and with family, which may not seem very creative at first, but of course it depends on the game. Games for Wheaton are his time to be creative with family and friends. This creative overtone is used not to make art, but to create bonds with people (which I think is what every artist wants anyway).

However, we again should not confuse creativity with Art, and so we come to the question again…What is art, really? Have we even answered the question yet? Well, no. So if not every creative act can be called art, then what can we make the distinction. I pose at this time a slightly more complex question. What is an artist? This could help us answer our question a little more simply. If we define art as the creative product of an artist, we then must define “artist.” As you may already know art isn’t limited to just the visual arts. We must also include composers, dancers/actors, and writers. Again though not everything a visual artist, writer, etc. does can be considered art. This is where I believe that there are three vitally important factors in defining what can qualify as art.

First we have the artist factor. Is the artist trying to create something meaningful, something that tells a story, and/or has merit? If the person creating the piece just is throwing things together willy-nilly without the idea of a finished product, instead of a piece of art, what we have then is a mess. Even if someone finds meaning in what someone else has created then the person finding the meaning (or the fan in this case) is the true artist, not the creator of the pile of garbage. Massachusetts’ Museum of Bad Art is a great example of artists with the best intentions and falling completely flat on the technical aspects.  While many artists producing “good art” might find the fact that this gallery sells pieces a bit insulting, it is also intriguing that you could classify art to be “bad” and still be art. By this stand point the intent of the artist is a vital part in classifying what art really is.

Second we have a less important but still vital part of the world of art…Community! Between fans of the art, patrons, and gallery owners/curators, we all have the responsibility and right to know what we like and what should be called art. The core of the art community these days is an artist and his/her personal fan base. As a community it is important to understand and artist’s intentions and desires in creating his/her art. However contrary to popular belief, the community doesn’t solely decide on what art really is. This is why many people both misrepresent and misunderstand modern art. There are large communities of people that will buy a piece of something that isn’t made by an artist and call it art. This as mentioned in artist factor makes the community the artist instead of the individual. If the collective art community places value in a pile of trash, then it becomes the creative act of the collective that puts value and meaning into a piece, thus making them the artists. Perhaps this is why my and many others’ frustrations in the modern art market lay. At the same time, however artists that create something “before their time,” may not be recognized by a community in the present, but instead in the future validating their creations.

The final and often most important factor in what can be called art exist in the relevance to and relationship with the historical context of art. While many artists will have the best intentions and their communities do as well, the piece just may not have a place in art. Again we can very easily get into trouble with this idea saying that because it doesn’t fit into a category we can’t call it art. This often then becomes called avant-garde. This is often the most overlooked factor in the world of art, and it’s also the reason many believe the community takes the most dominant control over what art really is. However, if the community doesn’t take the historical context of technique, medium, intention, skill, design, and intent into effect, then the community is the factor at fault in deciding if something is called art when it shouldn’t be.

There is a video from Prager University and Artist Robert Florczak, which describes the historical need in analyzing Modern Art. The video is a bit biased, but the basic idea holds true to the three factors we’ve been discussing. The video dives into the difference between something creative and something that is aesthetically pleasing and artistic. Again, just because something is creative, doesn’t mean its art.

So, what are we left with between creativity, the artist, and the actual art? If we say that art is the physical, emotional, or auditory result of an artist’s creative process. Then the artist is an individual that creates something deemed of value by both the artist and the cultural community, while maintaining a place within historical context. Our understanding of the historical context of all art will allow us to build an ever expanding library of style, technical skill, design, and intent, which acts as the foundation to determine if the product of a creative act can be called art.


What are your thoughts on the matter? Feel free to thoughts and opinions share in the comments.