Burn After Painting

I’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac. According to my mom, toddler-aged me loved to hold things against our living room lamp’s light bulb to set them ablaze. I actually ended up burning a hole in the upholstery of my Dad’s office chair once. I think it was a scientific curiosity more than anything- to watch the always unique distortion the flame provided to every victim I could offer up. I never would have thought that my proclivity for burning things would eventually coalesce with my art-making practice, but surprisingly, it has.

A common chestnut imparted by art professors is the idea of avoiding “preciousness” in your work. I was always warned not to see the work that I made, especially in class, as being too “precious” to mess up. It’s great advice, as you don’t want to let the fear of messing up a “good” painting through taking an artistic risk to prevent you from seizing said risk and, hopefully, arriving at a “great” painting. What bigger risk is there than providing the very real possibility of burning your entire painting to a crisp?

Burned Diamond WEB

 video of burning here . Diamond: Burn I | watercolor, crayon on burnt paper| 10×10″

I’d made a large-scale diamond painting on canvas a while ago, but I still didn’t feel that it really fit in with the rest of my work. I knew there was something else I needed to do to this diamond to make it say what I wanted it to say. Then I started to play around with some little sketches, and eventually the famous tagline “diamonds are forever” came to mind. Then I started to think about how my own work is, broadly, about beauty and the construction and maintenance of it, and how ephemeral those things are by their nature. Juxtaposing something that, at least through marketing, is thought to be eternal with a very obvious sign of decay seemed worth exploring. I applied this same general concept to my “Doe Eyes” series as well.

Doe Eyes_Burn1_WEB

video here. Doe Eyes: Burn I | watercolor, gouache, crayon on burnt paper | 5×7″

I’m excited to continue to explore this series of experiments. There’s something so beautiful about watching the paper curl and buckle under the flame. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable- and I’ve actually ended up over-burning a few paintings that I had to throw away. After graduating (almost two years ago- hoo boy,) I’ve found myself drawn to approaches to painting and  art-making where I relinquish a pretty high level of control over the final product- such as with my monotypes, water media, and now, the unholy power of the flame.


gif via tinarannosuarus 

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.



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.


How Artists do Selfies


Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!

Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.

Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.

SelfPort_MeganKoth (771x1000)Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014. 

Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!

However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.


Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur

The Floral Menace!

A lot of my fellow art students and artists that I meet (that consider themselves contemporary) have a bit of a beef with flowers. They don’t like them. They think they’re cheesy, boring, and ugh, as art subjects. They’re for “old ladies!” I used to feel this way as well. Floral paintings just always seemed so cheesy to me. It seemed like such an art cliche- the still life of flowers in a vase, on a table with some sort of fabric strategically laid out. We’ve all seen the mediocre watercolor flower paintings, seen our grandmothers tablecloths adorned with loud floral patterns. And I’m sure we’ve all seen every amateur “photographer” proudly post a close-up view of a flower to their flickr account. Flowers seemed like such a safe, saccharine subject matter to me as a young artist. The inherent sexism of it all- what with all this animosity towards subject matter that was so overtly feminine, was lost on me then.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I discovered (and could appreciate the erotic undertones of) the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work essentially woke me up to the fact that flowers, like any subject, held the potential to produce amazing, innovative work if in the hands of a capable artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.IV

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.V 1930.

Nevertheless, I just never really got “into” flowers all that much. I drew them occasionally through the years, but flowers have never really excited me as a subject. However, recently I completed a painting commission for a family friend who wanted me to do a painting of Plumeria, the flowers that grew around her childhood home in Hawaii. And she wanted it to be 22×30″. So, a huge painting of flowers. I was a bit scared, to say the least. But, I got over it, and researched the subject and approached it as I would any drawing/painting. And I found that I really enjoyed it. Here is the finished result:

Megan Koth, Plumeria. Commissioned work. June 2012. 30×22″

I love doing commissioned work because it takes me out of my comfort zone. Artists can get stuck into ruts of sticking with what makes them feel safe and secure, even when they think that they’re challenging themselves. For me, as a student, it’s especially important to me that I avoid doing this. I’m not saying that I’m gonna start churning out flower paintings left and right, but now that I know how well I can incorporate flowers into my style of working, I’ll be a lot more receptive when the time comes.

Wayne Thiebaud Revisited

Although known mostly for his sumptuous cakes and desserts (of which I’ve certainly admired), American artist Wayne Thiebaud also made a variety of simple, quiet images of everyday objects. These works in particular are interesting me at the moment.

Wayne Thiebaud- Bow Ties 1990

Wayne Thiebaud, Lipsticks 1964

Wayne Thiebaud- Yellow Dress 1974

I like these simple still lives that depict classically feminine, everyday items. The bow, lipstick, and dress are such blatant signals of gendered femininity- but Thiebaud’s works remind me that they’re just simple, everyday consumer items. I love Thiebaud’s ability to find great beauty in the everyday object, in the homogeneity of mass produced items. He handles them similarly to the way he handles his cakes and desserts. Usually displayed in orderly rows in such a way as to be very deliberately presented to the viewer, these still lives remind us of their existence as mass produced, consumer items. Regardless, Thiebaud’s use of bold brushstrokes, delicious color and eye for design make the resulting images more that the sum of their parts.

Thiebaud’s work, much like his cakes, are endlessly rich with inspiration for me.

Woah, I Did Something Crafty- Easy Purse DIY

Being a college student often means having a tight wallet. For me, this means that I do a lot of window shopping and daydreaming if I’m out and about. Partly because I want to gather ideas on things I can make myself (although, I have to admit, I rarely ever actually do.) However! Recently I did craft a little something. Well, rather made a “modification.” I was browsing anthropologie, and came across these bags (ipad cases? Envelope clutches?):

Being resourceful, and self aware enough to realize “hey! I can paint things too!” I thought “I ain’t buying no damn $300 bag! I’ll make one myself!” Unfortunately, I didn’t have any thick canvas/muslin of my own to make the envelope clutch-base to paint on. And so the project went unfulfilled, but stewed in my mind for a few weeks. Then, as I was looking through my closet for things to purge, I found an old Liz Claiborne bag that I’d never used and likely got for $5.00 at Marshalls. It was then that I realized “woah! I could, like, paint on this!” It’s a cheap purse so it’s made out of plastic anyway (perfect for acrylic.) Here is the fruit of my labor:

I’m pretty proud of it. What’s also great is that whenever I get sick of this image, I can always paint another scene over it. All I used were the acrylic paints that I use for my artwork. I also put a thin layer of soft gel gloss over the top to protect it a bit. That’s it! No sewing, measuring, or (for me) buying any new supplies. Just go out to Goodwill, find a cheap bag (shouldn’t be hard), preferably made out of vinyl or some kind of plastic-like material (I wouldn’t use leather), and channel your inner art-eest!

The Supposed “High” Cost of Artwork

Meat Market by Megan Koth © 2008

Last semester I had a particularly illuminating conversation with my then-roommate about pricing. She had mentioned how surprised she was with the pricing of the artwork she had seen while attending an artwalk. She mentioned a particular painting about 18×20″ in size that was about $200. I was surprised too, but not because I perceived the price to be too high (like she did) but because I knew it was too low (at least for someone hoping to make a living selling their artwork.)

This conversation only reminded me that too many people just don’t understand what artwork should cost, and why it costs what it costs. My roommate thought that  this person, charging $200 for a painting, must be some sort of bourgeois yuppie overcharging for work and going home to a cushy home or apartment. In reality, either this person made most of  their money elsewhere, or they lived out of their car. More people need to understand that an artist deserves fair compensation for their work.

There is a misconception that the pricing of artwork should just work like any other old job, or by “how many hours” was put into the work itself. This fails to take into account a variety of factors, one being that an artist, unlike someone working an hourly job elsewhere, has to pay a considerable amount for their own raw materials. Any artist will tell you how incredibly expensive art supplies can be, especially when we’re talking about materials of a high enough quality to produce sale-able work (crappy paints are cheap, but nobody wants to buy a painting that will fade/deteriorate over time.) This all has to be paid for by the artist, and all for a resultant work that only MIGHT be sold in the end. Another thing to keep in mind is that when you buy a piece of art, you’re not just paying for the number of hours this artist dedicated to that specific work, but also for the years and years of training and practice that they had to go through (and pay for) to get to the level of experience necessary to produce said work. Artists are skilled laborers, and you should appreciate that. No to mention, in order to produce their work, artists obviously need to pay the rent, eat, and buy toilet paper and whatnot. That stuff doesn’t magically materialize, and if someone works only as an artist, that’s going to have to be paid for through their work.

Another factor that people tend to forget about is that, once a painting is produced, it doesn’t just magically get seen by the right people, or into the right venues, and is sold. The artist then has to go on a daunting and often difficult quest to market, present, and hopefully sell said painting. Lets say an artist wants to sell their work in an art show or fair. First of all, they have to pay for a license/fee to participate in the fair, which can range anywhere from $10 to the hundreds. This is without any guarantee that they’ll even sell one piece. Oftentimes, artists have to pay for their own booth equipment, which can be very expensive. Then, they have to spend the entirety of the fair managing their booth. This is work. If this kind of thing was not factored in as work in the pricing, the artist would likely have no time to sit around a booth for an entire weekend when they could be working somewhere else earning an hourly wage. If an artist wants to instead sell through a gallery? Chances are, the artist is only seeing 50% or less of the asking price listed.

German Vegetables by Megan Koth © 2009

And finally, the overall notion is this: people need to understand that a piece of artwork is a one of a kind object created by someone with great skill and expertise. It is not a mass produced product that can be produced to the highest level of efficiency in materials, labor (or even underpaid labor), and time to ensure the cheapest price possible. It’s produced (oftentimes) by a single, imperfect human being, who’s making something new. Imagine buying a painting as similar to buying a song, like on iTunes, from a musical artist. Only, you’re the only one that can ever buy that track, and then the artist can never make any money from that song ever again. They can’t re-sell it, and you can’t make any copies of it.  That song download is it. Whatever you paid for that song is all they’re ever getting paid for all the work they put into it. Whereas producing endless copies of music data is virtually free (once it’s been produced), the same can’t be done with a painting or drawing (at least not without completely changing the format of the work.) I understand that this means comparatively higher (much higher) prices on original artworks, that, lets face it, a lot of people can’t afford. However, artists, if they want to make a living doing what they do, have to charge these prices in order to sustain themselves. It’s that simple. When things aren’t mass produced, you have to pay for that discrepancy.

So, please, fellow artists, charge fairly for your work, in a way that you can support yourself and, most importantly, the creation of future work. Seriously, when you price your work for so little, it warps buyers expectations of what artists should “deserve” for their work. And to buyers, understand all that goes into a piece of art, and understand just what a bargain you’re getting.