Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

The Magical Dance of Quick Sketches

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Image of M-J Kelley's quick sketch: Portrait of Emily (charcoal on kraft paper) 2012

Portrait of Emily by M-J Kelley 2012 (quick sketch/charcoal on kraft paper)

Every figurative drawing session that I have ever attended begins with quick sketches of the model. They range from 30 second to 3 minute sketches. For some, I think it’s a bit like an athlete stretching. This isn’t really the case for me. I try to be warmed up before I attend the session.

Instead, it is a bizarre combination of loose lines, accurate proportion and line quality — housed within these early sketches that tell me whether I will be drawing well or not. I am at that place as an artist. This is a great place to be.

My long-time friend Ken used to say that “drawing well was like magic dancing from your fingertips.” So right he was.

And that is what this image is for me — a quick sketch where all was right and the magic was dancing. The lines are loose, the line quality is good and the proportion is accurate.

And when it all comes together, as this sketch did, I get to do one more thing that makes what I do so special for me: I get to breathe life into it with an expression or a look.

Art on Steroids

Monday, August 8th, 2011

I recently listened to a 60 Minutes podcast reporting that Lance Armstrong”allegedly” used performance enhancing drugs in order to win the Tour de France races. The basic premise of the story was that a cyclist had to blood-dope – because everyone else was – if he even wanted to possibly have a chance at winning. And if he didn’t? Well, forget it.

We have this too in the visual art world.

At a recent art show, I was once again reminded to what lengths an “artist” will go to produce salable artwork. At the show there was an “artist” there who painted on top of a photograph to create realistic looking animals. I believe this to be a performance enhancing art aid. A photo is taken, sent to a printer and printed on canvas. The “artist” then adds paint and sells it as if it were an original piece of art in the traditional realm of high realism.

I mentioned this technique to a 13 year old student of mine. He said, “Don’t they know that’s cheating?” and “So it’s about the product and not the process for them right?” Right.

Before I get into why this technique is wrong, I would like to mention that photography does have its place in the visual arts either as photography or as reference material for visual arts and illustration. But when an artist blurs those lines for the sake of making money, there are several issues:

  1. The “artist” isn’t being truthful to his/her customer because the “artist” is not disclosing that he/she has painted over a photograph. The purchaser of such work believes he/she is buying a “painting.”
  2. Juried shows love traditional realism. Rarely do jurors ask about the art making “process.” As a result, the shows accept the cheating “artists,” while rejecting those who have worked hard to learn their craft.
  3. The work is usually priced far lower than a work created from scratch by another artist. This is because the time, energy, and knowledge spent to create artwork goes into the pricing structure. This creates an unlevel playing field.
  4. The “artist” misses out on the true reason why one creates.

I am incensed by the nature of this type of work and by the “artists” who practice this procedure. I just don’t understand why these so-called artists wouldn’t want to learn – truly learn – how to paint and draw well.

As always, comments are welcome.

8 out of 9

Friday, June 10th, 2011

That is the number of art shows to which I’ve been accepted this year. I think that is pretty darn good.

Sometimes, I tell you, it is a crap shoot. Neither rhyme nor reason as to why an artist is accepted into one show and not into another. Or why an artist was accepted the year before and not the following year.

But one thing is for certain: an artist should never take “rejection” personally. And though I’ll admit to a slight disappointment – which lasts momentarily – what follows is a fire in my belly and then I’m onto another new project. Rejection grants me precious time to work on new ideas.

Oh, but first you are probably wondering what show didn’t accept me. That would be the Queen West Art Crawl. I was informed in a “batch” email, broken down by alphabet. I was in the J, K, L, and M rejection pile. Who knows how many others were informed from A to I or N to Z. How do I know this? Because the author of the email used the CC line to address her bad news to me and 19 other artists. Can you believe that? Really, how rude to be batch emailed like that. I know 4 of those 19 artists – and their work is fabulous.

They, like me, should have been emailed directly and personally. We deserve that respect, even in rejection.

On Being an Artist

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

I was recently asked by a friend how it is that I survive as a visual artist. I spent months thinking about his question. I wanted to provide him with “a silver bullet” – the perfect singular answer. It was not possible. Instead I provided a collection of tiny nuggets of experience that may, or may not be of use. Here they are…

•    I work at it every day.
•    I have fun doing what I do.
•    I have deadlines. I create them. I meet them. I create more deadlines.
•    I have a business card that says I am an artist.
•    I am ok not making a ton of money and understanding that my income may fluctuate.
•    I diversify my work.
•    I make mistakes and I learn from them.
•    I assess what works and what doesn’t.
•    I make hard decisions.
•    My family is VERY supportive.
•    I stay true to who I am.
•    I continue to dream.

If I had to stress one nugget it’s the “work at it every day” nugget. It’s the point at which an artist crosses over to a place of no longer being a hobby artist.

I know that all sounds rather simple and doable. There are days when it feels like you are climbing a mountain with your teeth and there are days when you feel like you have swallowed the magic potion of greatness and can do no wrong. But only by doing do you experience both of those feelings.

Boxes Boxes … But Where Did I Put That?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

I think I take it back. In my last posting I casually said (obviously without thinking) that I find moving exciting. Really I meant “exhausting”. I am certain that I posted that comment prior to packing up my studio. Yup, I sure did. I cannot tell you how long it took me to pack up my precious scraps of paper. Each painting was gently wrapped and carefully slipped into an appropriately sized box and labeled accordingly. And this went on and on until all was boxed.

And about my new studio that I mentioned in my last posting – well it’s not winterized. It’s not that this major issue slipped my attention; it’s just that I like to see potential instead of problem. And so here I am with a non-useful sub-zero studio. Fortunately, there’s a warm 2nd bedroom where I have crammed all of my art boxes.

And though I have tons of art materials, I have to say nothing is more useful or comforting than a sketchbook and pencil which I smartly packed in my knapsack for easy finding.

An Artist’s Statement

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

As I walked down Bay Street the other day I glanced at a poster stapled to a pole. The poster was offering a workshop on “getting to know who you are.”  I didn’t think I paid it any attention but still I found myself asking, “Do I know who I am?”

Yes, I silently answered. And then began the long process of wondering why I do. I think the reason is because I am an artist. Being an artist requires that I articulate why I do what I do. And that very process once written down is called an Artist’s Statement. Every show, gallery, event, etc. asks for one when I submit my artwork.  They vary in length and detail depending upon who’s asking, so I have to know the very long and the very short of why I create, which is a daunting task at best.

To do that I have to ask myself more introspective questions about my likes and dislikes, and my behavior and conditioning. Though simple questions, sometimes the answers take a while to ferret out. But all this is to say that knowing one’s self is an evolution just like artwork I create – as it should be.

Wooden Cutting Boards

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

A few months ago I met a man at an art show who was selling wooden cutting boards. He asked me what I was doing at the show and so I told him I was showing my paintings. He then told me that he too was a painter. I asked him why he wasn’t selling his paintings. He responded by telling me that it was easier to sell wooden cutting boards than it was to sell artwork.

He then pulled out an old magazine that featured his artwork. The magazine displayed the most meticulously painted watercolours I have ever seen. They were collages of items that he had found along the way – ticket stubs, napkins, matchbooks – all painted in high realism. I was really impressed. I asked him if he was still painting. He told me “no.” Then with a shrug, he added “besides I already have a stack of paintings I can’t sell.”

Perhaps I was a bit naive to think that all artists care for their artwork as I do. I think it is important to be flexible with your work and to anticipate and integrate change. I guess if an artist’s focus is purely sales, then moving towards another art form would be favourable. But for me, I like what I do, so I try keep my work evolving and to be on the lookout for something that would work better while always remaining true to my work.

Social Commentary

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

M-J Kelley Studio's Hood Ornament

I begin each morning with a blank page, a sharp pencil and a cup of coffee. I never know what I will be drawing. So imagine my suprise when this turned up. Hood Ornament is a new piece that makes a visual comment about the connection between the brown pelicans, automobiles, and the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am finding that the greater the social commentary, the greater the animation or cartooning of a piece. It seems easier to comment in this manner. I now understand political cartoonists all the more.

New Prints

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The decision of whether or not to reproduce my artwork was not an easy one. I am a traditionalist at heart and therefore truly value original paintings and drawings. But with that said, I think it is also of value to listen to those who view your work and make suggestions such as “you should definitely sell prints”. So I have decided to meet somewhere in the middle. I am currently in the process of having five images scanned/printed for fine art reproductions. I picked the five pieces based on what my customers liked the most. One is traditional – The Blue Boat and the other four are surreal landscapes. They are The Clothesline, Crow’s Nest, Collecting Colour, and The Arch. All will be signed limited edition prints. With this I am planning on modifying my website to include the purchase of fine artwork and prints.

The Art Booth Rocks!

Monday, June 14th, 2010

M-J Kelley Studio - Art booth at night.

The display of artwork is just as important as the artwork itself. In an earlier posting I mentioned I was in the process of building an art booth with the help of my brother. Well it was completed and has now been on display at two art shows. The interest in my display booth was unbelievable. Mostly because it was a clean gallery-like way of displaying artwork with an easy set up and an easy, fast and compact tear down.

The walls are made with a thin wood panel strung up with cable ties. Each tie is able to support 50lbs of weight. My brother constructed a desk/box construction in similar fashion using cable ties to hold it together. At the end of the show we just snip the ties and lay everything flat. One of the newest features to be added to the booth display are the lights. They are true track lighting but with the wiring adapted to be plugged into a surge protector. It is super easy to set up and then with a twist, the lights are removed. The image above was taken recently at night. There are 12 track lights (35 watts each) illuminating the booth. It looks fantastic at night!

Besides being complimented on the booth design and display, the booth itself has withstood heavy winds and rain and best of all it fits into the Jeep for another show! Yay to the art booth!