31 May 2006

Tale of Two Chickadees

I've finally come down off my little high from last night. You see, last night I had an auction end for a watercolor painting of a bluebird on handmade paper. Since I had a little bidding war, it went for more than I had expected. Since eBay has been so slow lately, I figured maybe $20, but it went for twice that! Yippeee!!!

Now, I just need to not expect this from every auction. And I also need to try not to dulplicate the painting. (Each painting needs to be done in and for itself -- not as something like this other one.) Neither thing is easy to do, but I'll try.

Anyway, before the bluebird sold, I had started on a chickadee because I like chickadees. Well, I did one and wasn't totally happy with it, so I did another. Both are on handmade paper, but one is waterleaf and the other is sized. (Probably need to explain that.) Here's the two paintings:

This chickadee was done on handmade paper that a local lady makes for me. The paper is unsized, or waterleaf, as it doesn't have any sizing. Sizing prevents the watercolor from soaking into the paper. Since this is unsized, the watercolor soaks in and the paper buckles considerably. It will need to be flattened before I can sell it. The watercolor has a soft look as hard edges are almost impossible. Hence, the soft breast feathers are easy, but the edges on the tail are tricky to do.

This chickadee, on the other hand, was done on handmade paper which had been sized. The paper is from India and is definitely handmade as the texture is uneven and the edges are deckled. The watercolor sits on top of the paper -- doesn't soak in -- so edges are crisp. In fact, I had a difficult time getting the breast to look soft like a puffy chickadee. The pine needles were a snap, however. The other problem was to get the black to be black (or any darks very dark). The sizing prevents the paint from soaking in so a damp brush can be used to 'erase' minor mistakes, but this also means that putting a new layer over another layer can 'erase' the bottom layer too.

Anyway, this was an interesting experiment. I tend to adapt my working habits to the characteristics of the paper I use, but I didn't realize how different these two papers were until I did two similar paintings one after another. Personally, I like the unsized paper better, because of the softness.

As a footnote, I took the plunge and added some blue sky to the first chickadee painting. And then added the tiny branch. And suddenly it looked a whole lot better! Now I just have to figure out which one to list on eBay, because I don't want to list both at once. I don't want to flood the chickadee painting market!

29 May 2006

It's a Holiday?!

Yes, today is Memorial Day. For most people that means a day off, maybe a picnic, and a time to relax. For many working artists (as opposed to the wannabe artists), this is not a day off and may actual be a big work day.

Concerning this latter point, since a holiday weekend means that many are off work and are looking for something to do, there's often art shows on these weekends. Promoters figure that people will come and wander around and buy art. In my experience, it doesn't really work like that. Sure there will be a lot of people walking thru an art show, especially if it's free, but that doesn't mean they will buy art. They may buy a few cards, or pick up a business card, but buy a $400 painting? Usually not. The under $20 impulse buy, yes. The over $100 nice art, no. While a holiday weekend show looks good on paper, it's dubious in return, especially for a fine artist.

Also holiday weekends create a 'problem' with eBay. The big question is do you list items that either end or begin on a holiday or holiday weekend. One camp says no because there are less people looking -- they are out with the family, etc. The other camp says yes because there are a lot of people not going anywhere who will have more time on their hans and so will shop on eBay. I'm not sure which is right, although I did move my auctions back a day so that none would end yesterday. I do have one ending today, but I have specific buyers in mind, who check my auctions regularly, so they knew from last week it would end today. (Translation: a botanical watercolor probably will not be a impulse buy even on eBay!)

As for me, on this holiday, I'll be doing my normal thing. I had contemplated driving into LA to a show I want to see, but with gas at $3.39/gal, I'll skip it. So, I'll be working. I have 2 pet sketches to finish and a rose to paint, plus I really need to update my website. The only difference will be no checks in the mail today! (I'd prefer them to be incoming rather than outgoing.)

28 May 2006

A Return to Sculpture

Oops, it's been a few days since I last wrote. While I have blogging scheduled for the morning, before I get to work, I just don't seem to have time for it then. Okay, so part of the problem is that I haven't been getting up early so that I can get everything done and still have time to write this. The other problem is that I've been a bit whiny and I have to whine all the time in my blog.

So, since I last wrote, I finished 2 small paintings, started work on a large portrait commission, and ordered some wood.

Wood?! Yep, I got looking around on eBay and noticed there were hardly any realistic wood sculpture. I don't know if there's a market for it or not, or if the market doesn't pay very well, but I'm giving it a try. I'm not going to quit doing paintings and drawings, but the sculpting will be in addition to everything else. I'll probably only finish 3-5 pieces a year.

The other reason I'm returning to sculpting is that I like doing it. I stopped doing it because I never was able to sell it in local art shows. And I know this isn't a great excuse, but there is a limit on hom many pieces I can store! But everytime I walked by my carving tools, or had to move a chunk of marble to get to something else, something inside me cried. I miss the challenge of working in 3-D.

So, I'll be spending my weekends, and maybe an hour here and there during the week, working on a sculpture. Most of them will be small -- because the wood I have is small and because shipping large pieces is a nightmare. I have a number of interesting ideas and can hardly wait for the wood to arrive.

This may be the thing I need to pick up my spirits some. While I'm selling things okay on eBay, and have a few commissions waiting for me, I've felt somewhere between an art-prostitute and a waster of supplies. My recent bouquet series -- such as the roses in a vase -- have really left me feeling like I want to put more expression and meaning into my work. The problem with both botanical watercolors and portraits is that neither should have the artist's expression in them. Their whole point is an accurate rendering of what is there -- not what I want to be there. The bouquets have allowed me more expression. I'm hoping the sculptures will really be a great way to express my ideas and feelings.

And now, off to sharpen some gouges!

23 May 2006

A New Routine

Well, I've decided that I need a new daily routine because too many non-art-making things have crept into my art-making time. Lately I've noticed that I have been doing tasks like the dishes or answering emails during the day. Since it is hard to produce art under artificial light, I need to do my art while there is daylight. So, I need to move these non-art tasks to either earlier or later in the day.

Here's my new schedule:
  • 6-8am: get up, do tai chi, feed the cats and birds, eat breakfast, drink my coffee, write blog
  • 8-11am: do art, working mainly on portraits
  • 11am-1pm: eat lunch, make phone calls, errands into town
  • 1-5pm: do more art, working mainly on eBay items and show pieces
  • 5-7pm: fix supper, feed cats, do dishes, answer emails, clean up yard
  • 7-8 or 9pm: review math
  • 8/9-11pm: relax by watching tv, reading, or quilting

This looks do-able, unlike many schedules I tend to make. I have a tendency to believe I'm SuperWoman and can do a incredible amount of stuff all at once. I usually can do it for about 3 or 4 days and then I crash and take 4 or 5 days off, trying to recover. But I'm hoping that this one is more realistic.

Now the problem is 'surprises'. For example, some weeks ago, my web site was down so I transferred many of my auction photos over to a photo site. Then yesterday, I noticed that many of my auction and store items didn't have photos because this alternative site was down. Well, since it makes no sense to run art auctions without pictures, I had to revise a number of auctions by changing the sources for my photos back to my web site. So, when things like this happen, my entire schedule is thrown out the window!

Well, I'll see how this schedule works for a couple of weeks, if it makes it that long. I really want to get more art done, both for eBay and for shows, yet I don't want to give up things like playing with my cats. I'm hoping this new plan will give me both.

And now I see that I need to get moving since I still have to have breakfast and coffee, feed the cat herd, and answer a couple of emails. Only 43 minutes to go before I'm late on the first day of my new schedule!!!

18 May 2006

Fences and the Law

Just when I thought I had complained about everything my neighbors do, something new pops up which led to 'interesting' discussions with the county. The one neighbor, which is a lady with two adult sons living at home, hasn't caused much problems at all, until 2 days ago.

Here's what happened. I went to get the mail and noticed 4 deep motorcycle tracks across my driveway and property. I tracked them (not difficult in sand) to the neighbors. Their grandmother, who was passing by, told me it was friends of the two boys who road across my land, but she would have a word with the mother to ask their friends not ride on my land. I don't know if this will do the trick or not.

So, I called the sheriff's office to ask what I can legally do or what I need to do to have these bikers arrested for trespassing. I need either still photos of them on my land or a video tape. Well, since this isn't a daily occurance, I don't know how I could get either. My eyewitness account won't be accepted. (Remember that if you as a pedestrian are involved in a hit-and-run -- you need photos!!!) The sheriff's clerk suggested I talk to code enforcement about increased patrols. (And what are the chances of a sheriff being around when they ride across my land? Besides, I haven't seen a patrol for at least 2 years!)

If the law won't help, then building a fence may be my only option. Okay, I toyed with the ideas of homemade spike strips or concealed barbed wire, but hubby said something about liability and prison. (I protect my property from trespassers and I go to jail -- why doesn't this make sense to me?!) So, a fence. A simple split rail fence will keep the bikers out and let the bunnies come and go. It's also cheap and something I can do myself.

Then I made a fatal error -- I called the county to ask how far from the road I had to place this theoretical fence. The first lady told me I could put it on my property line, which made sense for the north and south sides (there's other land parcels there), but since there are roads on the east and west side and I presume my property line is in the center of the road, well it didn't make sense. She then transferred me to her supervisor, who was rude, snippy, and "not nice". The final answer is, I can put a 4 foot high fence 44 feet from the east property line and a 6 foot high fence 33 feet from the north, west, and south property lines.

Now, let's think about this. There's a road on the east and west, so why is the east side shorter and further away? And what the is this 33' or 44' stuff? Are they planning on putting a boulevard with turn lanes in? I live in the desert, in the middle of nothing. (The home owners association here does a yard sale every six months so they can pay someone to grade our roads, since the county doesn't.) Besides, we are talking about a fence, not a house or permanent structure. If they widen the dirty road, I'll move the fence, as will most of the homes owners on this road.

And what about all those 6' high chain-link fences that are 6' from the road? And where their neighbor's fence ties into the fence post, so there's no 66' wide space between the fences? Aren't these illegal?

Well, I was told that I could apply for a variance if I wanted a fence closer to the property lines, but to do that I would need my property surveyed. So, since I was all upset already, I called a surveying office. To get my 5 acres surveyed, it would cost about $2000-3000.

The bottomline is this: I can either build a legal fence for about $3500, or I can do what everyone else does and build a fence on my property line for about $500. Right now, I'm hoping the grandmother solved the problem because I'm not in any mood to dig fence post holes when it's 100 degrees outside!!!

15 May 2006

The New Neighbors

About a week or so ago, new people moved into the house behind mine. Since this area has become a real estate hotspot -- prices are still affordable by California standards -- in the last 2 years, I have had 5 other new neighbors. Now since this is the desert and California, people will wave when they are in their cars but that's it. I have not met any of these new neighbors and with at least one, I'd rather not meet them. (I'll get back to them later.)

So, this weekend, the bulldozer arrived at my newest neighbors' house. Even before they got everything unpacked (boxes still in front of the house), they hired a bulldozer for the weekend to scrape allthe vegetation off their 5 acres. For 2 days, they scraped and dozed their land. With the exception of 3 or 4 Joshua trees, which are a protected species, they removed all plant life. Large clumps of yuccas. Magnificient clumps of cactus. Interesting desert wildflowers. All gone. Piled into large mounds of debris. Nothing left but dirt.

This is enough to make me cry. I love this desert. There are literally hundreds of plant species here, over 10 lizard/reptile species, dozens of bird species, plus an occassional bobcat. Except right around the houses, basically the desert was in pristine condition.

See, I moved here from Iowa. In Iowa, there was less than 1/2 of 1% of the native prairies still intact. A number of conservation groups were spending thousands of dollars to maintain and restore these little islands of nature land. Here, there's intact ecosystems right outside my front door. All one has to do is not intentionally destroy it and it will remain a functioning ecosystem.

Unless of course, everyone scrapes their land. Of the 5 new neighbors, 3 have scraped their yards. I really would like to know why. Are they afraid of the wildlife? Of wildfires? Do they understand how dusty it will be when the winds blow? Or muddy when it rains? Why not move into town if you want dirt? Why buy a house in the country only to destroy the nature habitat?

I actually know why one neighbor scraped his land -- his personal dirt track for his offroad vehicles. It's just so wonderful to try to relax on my patio with the dust and noise of his 4-wheel drive truck zooming around. I would like to point out to him that if he drove it 10 miles from here, he would have literally 100s of acres to race around. Ooops, I guess he can't because his truck, his motorcycle, and his jeep have no license plates. I must admit, he hasn't done much zooming around lately -- ever since another neighbor called the sheriff on him. (The law does frown on loud vehicles zooming around at 1am!)

Anyway, back to my newest neighbors, after they were done scraping, I went outside to water trees. Then I heard gun shots. I looked around and say a young kid shooting a rifle on my property. I approached him and told him to stop shooting on my land. He explained he was only hunting rabbits and apologized. Hey, people, if you didn't scrape your property bare, your son wouldn't have to trespass on my land to shoot rabbits!

I try to be understanding -- not everyone shares my love of wildlife and plants -- but it still makes me sad. I had planned on working on an alpaca portrait this weekend, but I couldn't concentrate with the sound of the destruction next door. I just hope I don't get any more new neighbors for a long time!

13 May 2006

A Lazy Saturday

Well, I just got back from a trip into town. I went in to see a cat show and to check out if I could sell cat art at cat shows. The answer is no. Just like horse and alpaca shows, most of the people who go to animal shows are there to show there animals and aren't interested in buying non-show stuff. Since this was a small show, there was much traffic from the general public, so there'd be little chance of selling to the public either. Maybe at a larger show, there'd be enough of a general public to make it worth while, but then the booth fee would be a lot higher. So, just for the record, animal shows really aren't a good venue to sell art.

Before going into town today, I did manage to scan in a couple of recently finished pieces. This first one is the boxer dog in watercolor on handmade paper. I think he looks cute!

I really don't know how many more of these works on handmade paper I'll be doing. I seem to have annoyed the lady that makes the paper for me. I told her that I needed off-white, as in oatmeal colored paper, and also paper about the color of brown paper bags. I also told her that the colors didn't need to be exact and that I need a fairly smooth surface. For a couple of batches, this worked fine. Now lately, she demanding that I do swatches of exactly the color I need, and that she thought I wanted a rough surface, and that I need to do this or that, etc. So, it's looking like I may be teaching myself to make paper. It's not hard -- I just need another blender -- but it's one of those things I'd rather pay someone else to do for me.

Anyway, the other piece is another watercolor/pastel bouquet, this one of sunflowers in an old red coffee pot. I really like the combination of watercolor and pastel as the watercolor has transparent areas and the pastel is clearly opaque. (You really can't see that in the picture, so you'll have to take my word for it.)

Well, I suppose I should get to work. I have one large alpaca portrait, 2 pencil portraits, 3 oil portraits, and 3 small sketches to do, plus what I want to do for eBay and shows. One of these days I would like to be caught up!

10 May 2006

Getting Back in the Swing

I'm trying hard to get back into the swing of things. Between the physical strain of the Montrose show, the emotional strain of Frankie's egglaying, and the mental strain of trying to get the alpaca commission done, I've been exhausted. Also, I know I haven't been eating too well. While I would like to take a week off, I really need to get to work and do stuff.

One thing I need to do is work on a portrait of another alpaca. This one is a champion and the highest priced alpaca ever, so I really need to get this done and done well. At least there is no deadline, like on this other one, so it won't be as stressful.

And speaking of this other alpaca portrait, the owner received it today. She loves it! While I thought it was good, sometimes the client has a specific idea in their mind and the finished portrait doesn't match it. This is when there are problems. But Kathy loves it as does her husband and the frame shop, so it was worth the strain to get it done in time. And now it will be on display at the National Alpaca Show! (Hopefully, I will get some more commissions from it!)

I did manage to get a watercolor of a boxer dog done today, despite my tiredness. I don't know why I've been doing watercolor animals, but it probably has to do with speed. Yes, pastel is fast, but it's not good for small works. Watercolor is fairly fast and can be done on a small scale, so it should work well for eBay items. (Trying to do things for $10-40 requires speed!) Besides, I haven't ever done much with watercolor other than the botanicals, so it's fun. And since I did it on handmade paper, it's even more fun. The paper acts like a sponge since it's not sized. It also buckles a lot, so I'd share a photo of the boxer but it's being flattened over night.

Speaking of eBay, yesterday was a 10-cent listing day (list anything for 10 cents), so I put up 4 items -- 2 botanical watercolors, a new woodblock print, and a 5x7 portrait commission. I did the latter as a fixed price listing with the idea that it would draw people to my store where they would buy more expensive portraits. That was my plan. This morning, however, only 15 hours after I listed it, someone bought it. So much for my plan!

08 May 2006

Montrose Report

Well, I survived the one-day show at Montrose this last weekend. Yes, survived. For people who have never done an art show, 'survived' is the correct term because your body hurts for at least a day or two afterwards.

Anyway, the show had it's good points and it's bad.

First the good. There was a pretty good crowd. The area has a very knowledgeable public when it comes to the arts. I got a lot of compliments. And the artists next to me were nice and friendly.

The bad parts now. I only sold a couple of small items (which is better than not selling anything). I got a rude surprise because there was a flower garden where I was suppose to set up my display.

Perhaps the most annoying part of the weekend was one artist's work. As you may have picked up on from reading this blog, I hate lying. This artist was displaying "original oil paintings" according to her sign along with some giclees (reproductions) of her work. Well, I took one look at her painting and just about laughed outloud -- at least until I noticed her prices. A 18x24 was listed at $4500! What she was doing was taking a nice photo of a scene, having the photo printed onto canvas which she then stretched, and then adding a few highlights here and there. How do I know this? Every single leaf in a tree was clearly "painted" as was every single tiny twig. Every single on in sharp detail. EVERY single one. Also, there is a look to photography which can't be reproduced by painting, no matter the skill of the artist. Yesterday, I looked up her website and she has some portraits which weren't done with a photograph 'underpainting' and they didn't look anything like her landscapes. But perhaps the most telling thing is that she has a BFA with an emphasis in photography and has worked for years doing advertising layouts. Now, I will admit that her work is nice and very impressive to the uninitiated, but her calling these "original oil paintings" is nothing more than a bold-faced lie. They are mixed media, or embellished photos, but not an oil painting. And she had no problem lying to potential buyers. It's disgusting!!!

Ah, that felt good. (I've been muttering about this yesterday and today, so it's nice to have it off my chest.)

05 May 2006

Yep -- Still Alive

To those who have emailed me, yes, I'm still alive. I've been in one of my blue moods and I've also been doing a number of things all at once. Here's what I've been up to:

First, my website has been done as the host lost a server. It took a few days for the host to get things partially up and working. I had to upload my website (800+ files), and that restored the photos I was using for auctions and the pages themselves, but because I use FrontPage to create my site, I had to wait a few more days for the navigation structure to come online. In the meantime, one could navigate my site, but one had to use the back button on the browser to go back. Finally, the FrontPage extensions were installed and I had to upload part of my site again, but then the navigation bars were there. While there was no real harm done, it was a bit annoying since I was running auctions and I had contacted some decorators about my botanicals!

Second, I knit part-time for a lady and she has now come up with a hundred different things for me to do -- NOW!!! Nothing from her for months -- since last August -- and now a whole lot of things to do. I've also been negotiating with another lady for custom knitting but despite all her "I'll call you soon", nothing from her so far.

Third, Frankie, my Indian ringneck parakeet, has been ''off" lately. His poops were strange, with a bit of blood. He was sitting around fluffy. He didn't seem himself. Nasty ideas of kidney infections popped into my head. The other day, I noticed a bulge in his bottom and then things fell into place. Frankie was having an egg! (I now have to relearn tosay 'she' when referring to Frankie.) Immediately I got worried about him-now-her being egg-bound. Unfortunately, Frankie is one of my rescue birds and the stress of taking her out of her cage and taking her to a vet over an hour away, probably would kill her. Not to mention the moment one walks into an avian vet office it's $65. (Eggbinding treatment can easily top $1000!) So, I've been fretting and stewing about all this. Well, Wednesday, from 4:30-5:00 pm, we had an egg! She's resting now, and she seems to be having huge poops, so I'm wondering is egg #2 is on it's way. I hope not as egg laying can be very demanding on a bird (and owner). But she's eating, screaming a bit, and seems a whole lot happier to have that huge thing out of her!!!

Fourth, I'm trying to finish up a commission by this coming Monday. I'm about 3/4ths done with it and it's coming out fine, but now with the next item, I'm really cutting it close.

Fifth, tomorrow, Saturday, I do a show in Montrose. It's a one-day show, so I have to drive 2 hours, set up, sit there and demonstrate something from 9-4, pack up, and then drive home. It makes for a long day. Luckily hubby will be home and go with me so that helps some. (Unfortunately, the d-o-g will also be going with us, so I'm not sure how helpful hubby will be.) I did a show in Montrose last year and it was a pretty nice little show. So, I'm trying it again. And this time, I sent out postcard invitations to local decorators, so maybe they will come and make my trip worth it.
And finally, I have been looking into either substitute teaching or getting my teaching certificate and teach fulltime. I'm not happy with my sales this year and thanks to some bad luck with hubby's truck (a new week, a new alternator), we are having some cash flow problems. So, I'm thinking of getting a part-time job and the substitute teaching seems pretty ideal. It pays well, I only have to pass a background check (no classes to take), and I can work as little or as much as I want. Admittedly, I will be the 'sub' and I do remember how i tormented them when I was in junior high. Anyway, just thinking of giving up part of my art time has really upset. I like my life as a full-time artist, and getting even a part-time job feels like I'm giving up. BUT I'm not giving up on doing art and I still believe that I have the skills and vision it takes to make a living at art. Sometimes reality just isn't nice!
So, wish me luck tomorrow and go to my website and buy lots of portrait commissions!