Obligatory Reflections

Even though my rational side understands that the concept of a “new year” is just an arbitrary marker of the passage of time, which is itself a human construct and we will all die alone in the end…. I admit, I become much more reflective during this time of year. I can’t help but look back at the work I’ve been making and the progress that I’ve made as an artist.

2015 was my first full year of being a post-BFA graduate. I was thrust into “real life” without the constant supervision of my professors and peers. Upon graduating,  I essentially felt like that guy from the first Jurassic Park movie who, upon sitting down for a leisurely poo, watches all four walls of his little outhouse fall to the ground around him like Popsicle sticks, revealing a hungry T-Rex just outside its (in actuality, probably cardboard) walls. To make matters worse, and more comical (in the movie at least) his pants are down. In this metaphor, the T-Rex is REAL LYFE!!11! Just a few hours after graduating, I remember sitting in my room when a wave of dread and panic came over me. I couldn’t help but think that the T-Rex of REAL LIFE was going to thoroughly kick my ass and I would end up one of the many BFA grads who ends up not producing any new work shortly after graduating. But really, nothing so tragic or dramatic has happened. I’m still making work, and even thought it doesn’t always feel like it, said work is developing.

I went through this whole year making work in a pretty wide variety of media- everything from watercolor, oil, acrylic, various other painting mediums, mixed media, even embroidery.

2015 best9

 

 

 

a sampling of my “2015 best 9” posts on instagram, which showcases the variety in my work this year pretty well.

I kind of have 3 main “series” of work that are in progress. Because of this, I basically felt like I was all over the place, because I kind of was, medium-wise.

I have my “Doe Eyes” series, which really just started as small sketches, but gradually turned into a series of small mixed-media works on paper:

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Doe Eyes: Green Mascara | gouache, watercolor, crayon on paper | 5×7″

Then, I have my Fixation series, which is mostly done in acrylic paint/mediums on canvas:

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Fixation: Eye III | acrylic, false eyelashes on canvas | 12×12″ |2015

Finally, I have my “Clown” series, which is the most recent. It’s a series of self portraits:

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Self Portrait: Clown III | oil on canvas | 20×30″

All three of these series, although different medium-wise, share a common thematic concern: they all have to do with feminine beauty rituals: the type of beauty that is dabbed, smeared, and applied. It’s not like I’m never conscious of this commonality while painting, but I can’t help but feel like I’m all over the place when I’m jumping from watercolor to oil to acrylic gel. I even went through some old portfolios and ended up destroying a lot of things from school in the name of new year’s cleaning (sorry, Mom,) where I also ended up finding a lot of examples of me exploring these kinds of ideas as early as freshman year of my BFA. It’s interesting to see how far back the core ideas for work that feels “new” often go.

So, 2015 was a year of experimentation, but experimentation with a pretty focused set of concerns and ideas. That seems to be a pretty good place to be in. I’m also pleased to say that I sold my highest volume of work this year at Art One Gallery. I still have a long way to go in my burgeoning art career, but I look forward to continuing to explore and develop in 2016, hopefully with less existential fear of T-rex attacks.

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Transforming Reference Images

Now, I’m a firm believer that absolutely, any 2-d artist should be able to work from life, and should whenever they can (these skills are essential in simply being able to paint well. Full stop.) BUT, there are always going to be those situations where it just makes more sense to work  from a photograph. Now, some artists (especially the more “old school” ones)  take issue with working from photographs as opposed to direct observation. But I believe that one can work from a photograph while still making a great painting that isn’t a mere copy of the reference image.

For example, I did a painting of a grenade using a reference photo. I found it simpler to do this because of the placement (flat on a table) and lighting I wanted would be easier to reference from a photo rather than having to do a setup where I would somehow have to position my face directly parallel to a table while trying to paint.

Grenade Reference

The photo gave me the key information I needed- things like proportion, angles, major color/value changes. But as you can see, the finished painting isn’t an exact copy of my reference:

Grenade THIS (800x798)Grenade, oil on canvas, 12×12″, by Megan Koth

I think a good rule of thumb is to not spend too much time looking at the reference itself. Especially once you’ve got the key information down, you have to look at the painting that you’re making, and make decisions based on how to make your painting a successful one- not a mere copy of the reference photo. Basically, as I go, I look less and less at the reference (it helps that all my reference photos quickly become obscured with paint smudges anyway.) The camera can be the enemy of a great painter, but it can also be a great asset. Like most tools, it’s all in how you use it.

 

Art Entry Fees are Too. Damn. High!

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I’m sure any artist who has ever looked into entering their art into juried shows has balked at some of the prices to simply SUBMIT to have their work considered. It seriously stinks. I’ve seen price tags as high as $60 to submit TWO images! That’s how much it costs to apply to some graduate school programs! Rabble rabble, I know, but it does suck when you’re an artist without a lot of money to just gamble away on these things.

As I always do when I feel righteously indignant, I googled “art entries too expensive,” and I found this great interview with Lori Zimmer, a Brooklyn based curator, writer, and art consultant. I really agreed with what she said regarding art entry fees:

“…but to tell them oh, well, ya gotta pay me. That’s a little too greedy for my tastes. I understand that you have to pay your staff and you have to pay people to look at things, but if there’s no return, where does all that money go? If 1000 people enter and they each paid $45, where does all that money go? And then if you’re selling the work on top of that?… It just seems a little greedy to me.”

And I’m sure in some (hopefully not most) cases, the high prices being charged are not even proportionate to the qualifications of the jurors. I think that there’s an unfortunate trend where even really inexperienced curators/ galleries with really unimpressive qualifications are still demanding high entry fees simply because that’s what other juried shows/competitions that they want to compete with or emulate are doing.

I can obviously understand what is most likely the original argument for charging jury fees- that it discourages mere hobbyists or people who are less than professional from applying by requiring that entrants put some skin in the game. But I think in some cases it has the opposite effect- you get only the people who are so desperate to have their work shown somewhere that they’re willing to fork over $50 to just have their work looked at and possibly rejected. I mean, curators and other arts professionals aren’t impressed by someone with a bunch of pay-to-show vanity galleries on their resume, so why is it suddenly different when you have someone willing to pay to enter a juried group show? Professional artists are savvy businesspeople. Unless your jurors have some truly impressive qualifications, they’re not going to see the benefit of gambling away their hard-earned money just to possibly be rejected. And if they are accepted, to then have to pay shipping and insurance costs on top of the initial entry fee adds up to a lot of money invested. The quality of work received would probably be better if the entry fee were something affordable- like $5-10, or if there were only a fee to those selected.

As artists, we’re asked constantly to gamble away our money, time, and skills in the hopes of it leading to regular work, a sale, or even just nebulous “exposure.”  If an organization or gallery truly cares about giving emerging artists a chance, then they need to stop forcing them to take on all the financial risk from the get-go.

Equal Parts

Equal Parts_Panorama

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I’m always so late to updating my blog about these things, but last month I had some work up in a lovely group show focusing on gender-related art called  Equal Parts at Frontal Lobe Gallery in Phoenix. It was a wonderful experience. Not only did I get to have my work up in a really well-curated show alongside some very talented artists, I also even got some of my first real “press” reviews of my work. Thankfully, it was positive!

Equal Parts (1)

I had two “Fixation” pieces up: Fixation: Lip and Fixation: Eye, which were also used as the advertisements/press images for the show:

equal parts ad

I also had my Lipstick triptych on display, since the only other time they were shown was at my solo BFA show, so they needed some more lovin’:

equal parts lipsticks

I think I may have taken it a bit for granted how much easier it was to find open calls for art when I was in an art program; It can be pretty difficult to find those opportunities outside of that supportive environment. Obviously, I’ve learned that it’s worth putting in the effort. I often have to remind myself that just making the work itself is only part of the equation in being an artist you have to actually show your work as well! The experience of showing your work, although always nerve-wracking, can often be incredibly affirming, and I’m happy to say that my experience being in Equal Parts was that and more.

How NOT to Approach an Artist

This past month,  I had work in a group show in downtown Phoenix. It was a great experience, and I was happy to show my work for the first time since my solo BFA show. Even more awesome- I had some interest from buyers in a large triptych of mine that I honestly never thought of selling. Not so awesome, one person who approached me did it in a, quite frankly, insulting way.

Now, these being large oil paintings, the price on them was appropriately set. I’m no dummy, I understand that not everyone, hell, most everyone, can afford a rather pricey triptych. Regardless, the price is what it is. Basically, I encountered an individual who had no respect for my (more than reasonable and competitive!) pricing.

Now, If someone is really, truly interested, I’m willing to be as accommodating as I can in offering a payment plan, a smaller commission, or even a small (SMALL!) discount on the purchase of multiple works. If they’re  nice.

This individual wasn’t mean, per se, they just had a very entitled attitude. Basically,  they offered to pay me 40% of the asking price. Yes, less than HALF of what I was asking for. They said that affordability was an issue for them, of course, and asked for my thoughts. I offered them all of my accommodations listed above,  including the small discount. I also explained that I could not offer such a deep discount as I had to keep my pricing consistent with my gallery (as giving buyers a disincentive from buying from your gallery is a GREAT way to ruin a gallery relationship.) They curtly message me back offering 50% of my original asking price. Um, no.

I mean, you encounter so many things in life that you may want but can’t afford. One of those things may be my art – and that’s incredibly flattering.  But it’s also not my job to cut into my own wage – my payment for my work, to make what in many ways amounts to a luxury item affordable to you. This person’s attitude just reflects an entitlement and an ignorance of the fact that being an artist and producing great artwork that people actually want to buy in the first place  involves incredible skill and  expertise, time, equipment, and  accompanying financial risk. Artists don’t pull their prices out of their ass.

The worst part is so many artists don’t realize this, especially emerging ones like me. Thus, they may feel pressured into caving to lowballers out of desperation to make a sale. And that’s a supremely shitty situation to put someone who is already financially struggling in. Asking an already struggling artist for a discount most would reserve only to their closest friends comes across as incredibly arrogant.

So, inexperienced art buyers, please respect the prices of artwork,  ESPECIALLY those of emerging artists. Understand what you can and can’t afford. And if you do see someone’s  pricy magnum opus and fall in love, it never hurts to ask an artist if they have any more affordable work, like small paintings or sketches, available. In fact, most emerging artists would probably love that. Simply respect the artist and the value their work over the shallow desire for a “bargain.” If the latter is what you want, I’d suggest avoiding art galleries and instead taking your business to the local swap meet.

Playing Designer

One regret I have in regards to my time getting a BFA is that I never took a real graphic design class. I did some mild stuff while taking an animation class, but I still felt pretty unfamiliar with the likes of Illustrator and Photoshop. I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two by trial and error (or, rather, I NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS NOW THE SUBMISSION DEADLINE IS TOMORROW-esque urgency), but didn’t take the time to really indulge the genuine design-ey inclinations that I have until I graduated and opened up my humble little store on print-on-demand site redbubble.

Like a lot of young girls who were into girly things, I went through a phase of wanting to be a chic fashion designer. A desire I mostly explored by playing the Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM game for hours on end:

barbiefdSo.Much.Printer.Ink.Wasted

When I started my store and saw that I could put my work on things like tee shirts, pillows, and (newly) pouches, all these long-buried emotions came roaring back. Problem is, a lot of my work just doesn’t, well, work on things like tee shirts. So I’ve been playing with how to make painterly graphics to mix and match with by painting with acrylic on duralar transparency:

Duralar GREEN STROKES_Hmm..I simply paint on the transparency, scan it at a high resolution, and  rid of all the white/ close to white areas (super simple, as my skilz still aren’t too impressive.) Then maybe some mild cleanup and color adjusting. I know this is total baby stuff, but I really enjoy playing around like this. I had this one printed on another baseball tee (MY LAST ONE, I SWEAR) and it surprisingly came out pretty true to the bright colors in the file (which won’t always happen when printing on shirts.)

Green Strokes Tee

I’m goin’ all the way to the top for you, Barbie. I really like that I can use the skills that I already have (painting) with a little graphics know-how to make these fun little designs.

If you’re so inclined, you can purchase my tee shirt [here] or peruse my redbubble portfolio [here]

Artbook of the Day: Vision and Revision

VnR Thiebaud_COVER

Since I love playing with monotypes, and since I am so enamored with everything by Wayne Thiebaud, I immediately fell in love with this book while browsing amazon. Not many people know that Thiebaud actually has made a sizable body of work in printmaking.

VnR Thiebaud_Sardines

Wayne Thiebaud, Sardines, watercolor over hard-ground etching, 1990

It’s interesting to see his trademark subject matter and aesthetic translated into this medium-  a medium that is in many ways similar to painting. Interestingly, part of the “revision” of these works becomes apparent as Thiebaud works into the prints with other mediums, like pastel and watercolor:

VnR Thiebaud_6 Candied Apples

Wayne Theibaud, Six Candied Apples, watercolor over hard-ground and drypoint etching, 1990

The forward, written by Thiebaud, starts:

“I think the most compelling part of drawing and painting is the continuing thrill of learning how they can be made. Working on prints is an extension of this constant search.”

It’s this clear enthusiasm for the formal, raw process of painting that makes Thiebaud so easy for me to admire. A true painter’s painter… Who also makes amazing prints.

Ghosts of Painters Past

I’ve been reading a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and one particularly salient point I found (among many) was this:

“Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life.”

Which also reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my painting professors, where he essentially said that “you have to live in your own time. You can’t be Monet.”

This is incredibly valuable advice. It’s normal to be a student or developing artist and to have artistic heroes- people who you look to and just think, “wow, if I could paint like that…” The problem comes when you essentially try to replicate work from a certain artist or era with the intent that it all but pass for one of those works. There are plenty of painters out there, for instance, who fancy themselves to be Monet-esque impressionists. But their work, being produced in the present and therefore divorced from the context that the original impressionists painted in, just looks like a cheap imitation- and that’s because it is.

meme art

 

The Impressionist’s work was highly innovative in their time because from their cultural context, they were solving a problem and presenting something new to the world. They actually took incredible creative risks in doing so. People today who try to imitate these artists (or artists from any other historical period,) however, are merely piggybacking off of their innovation and banking on the nostalgic feelings that some retain for the group. As Bayles and Orland go on to say, “There’s a difference between meaning that is embodied and meaning that is referenced.”

Admiring artists from the past is completely natural, and a great way to see different approaches to solving formal or even thematic issues. And I know and understand the whole Joseph Campbell, “nothing is truly original” thing and all that. But taking bits from the past and mixing them with your own personal point of view and painting style derived from the actual, present world around you is much more worthwhile and brave than just chasing after the ghost of Monet.

 

Mugs!

As you all know, I have a little shop on print-on-demand site Redbubble.com, and recently they added mugs to their lineup of products. I ordered some for myself (well, to give as gifts and one for myself!) and I’m, again, pleased with the printing quality. The price is also, surprisingly, only as much as a tote bag.

MUG Ocarina Pic

Above is my Pop-Art Ocarina Tilted Pattern

MUG matchsticks

Mug Matchsticks 2

Above is my Many Matchsticks pattern.

Never thought I’d ever see any of my work on a coffee mug, but I must admit that I like the result! As more of a “fine” artist, I also love that I get to indulge my more design, graphics oriented ideas and inclinations through my store here.

 

Monotyping

Monotypes are a medium that I have been playing with off and on for a few years. For those who don’t know, a monotype is a kind of print that, rather than being made using a printing matrix (like woodcuts), instead involves basically painting a non-textured plate with inks. The plate is then placed with a piece of paper and run through a printing press, producing a one-time, unique printed image. It’s basically the closest printmaking comes to painting, and is probably the least structured or technical form of it. I personally don’t own a printing press (the small ones run in the thousands of dollars,) but a good friend who is kind enough to let me into her studio every once in a while lets me use hers. Here are some pieces from the most recent session:

Doe Eyes Monotype_Grey_MeganKoth (582x800)

 

The above was the first one I made. I wanted to see how my recent “Doe Eyes” series would translate from watercolor to printmaking. I basically painted some pretty straightforward, normal eyes and lips and decided to let the press add the more unique, abstracted aspects to the image. This one didn’t satisfy me in that the end result looked too “normal,” so I decided to really glob the ink on in the following prints:

Doe Eyes Monotype_Tongue 2_Megan Koth_WEB

I added too much ink to the lips, and the run through the press made a really happy accident by creating this tongue effect. Miley Cyrus would love them.

Doe Eyes Monotype_Tongue Ghost_Megan Koth_WEB

Above is the “ghost” print made from the same plate. It’s made by running the same plate through the press again. The ink residue left over makes a lighter, ghost-like version of the first print. I often favor the ghost prints over the others.

Maybe someday I’ll have a great studio space and enough money saved up to buy my own press and do these more regularly, because they’re so fun. It’s often exhilarating to see the image that the press will give you. My tendency with painting faces is always to make them look controlled and clean- I have a hard time abstracting them. With monotyping, I can paint a pretty structured image and then let the press create the abstract elements for me!