Thomas Neel's Blog
Loving work or not, it is a bit of a race with an endless finish line. As with any product, (which if you sell it-art is a product), making art that is sellable is important. In many cases, it drives your creativity. Yes, this is where some feel that business interrupts creative purity. I would somewhat agree, but not to the point of wanting to starve myself.
I love creativity. I really mean that. It runs in my veins like an unbridled horse, wild and free. When I was very young a pencil or a crayon was just as much fun as toys tapping into a boy’s youthful imagination as any to be found. As I grew I used them and words to therapeutically help as best they could with my parents' divorce.
I can remember as a young boy growing up in the 50s and 60s, my brother and I being schooled by my very artful mother with her lessons on decorating our Christmas tree. She was dutifully precise in her approach. Nothing about decorating was to be done willy-nilly, or at break-neck speed.
Here it comes! For many, it’s the busiest most stressful time of the year. Thanksgiving has, in many cases, been more about stuffing ourselves in preparation for Black Friday! It’s like the kickoff to Christmas which is barely still about Christ. Time to reboot friends!
Stop and smell the roses or even a flower from a weed. The beauty that surrounds you, offers the vitality that you need. Chapter 4 from my book - Live An Artful Life, is titled, The Beauty Creativity Brings. We are surrounded by all sorts of things. There’s just no shortage of visual stimulation, but all of it is certainly not healthy for us, or a positive influence.
This week Linda and I went in search of Autumn. New to the convenience of reaching North Carolina’s High Country, and elevations higher than the Old Dominion, we headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway to lap up the sights between mile-post 335 and 382, at the Folk Art Center on the outskirts of Asheville.
In Chapter 8 “Overcoming Obstacles” from my book Live An Artful Life, I say, Children are carefree. If you look at the basic definition of the word carefree, it pretty much says it all; free from anxiety and responsibility. I then go on to say that I like to think of being carefree as not being controlled by anxiety and responsibility.
I go on to say, And being creative will never let you see four blank walls for long. This is straight from my book, Live An Artful Life, Chapter 14 - Ageless Artistry. It is estimated that 10,000 people per day retire.
I was sitting at our kitchen island finishing dinner and found myself gazing at two tomatoes sitting on the black granite kitchen counter. Their mirror-like reflection was offering up two pairs! Not pears! Pairs! With every Live An Artful Life principle, it’s not just seeing, but the depth of seeing that really counts.
As some of you know, Linda and I have purchased a home in North Carolina. It’s just trying something different that was the root cause of it all. In doing so, this home, with its large bonus room over the garage, offered a new studio space that is quite different from our home in Virginia.
In the world of art, there is a funny little word that pops up from time to time. That word is taste. Art itself is amazingly vast as we all know. The variations of creativity are seemingly endless. But, we all do not like the same things because we all have different taste.
I’ve often said that creativity is my friend. There’s been plenty of days when it has spoken to me or I to it in the most useful ways. There have been days when I’ve leaned on it or it on me to make something happen, something out of nothing. I have painted or been in the height of creativity through the worst and best of economic times, and times of great sorrow and happiness.
I have a good friend I’ve known for years who did well in life as a business person and entrepreneur. As his early retirement neared he jumped deeply back into his college love of jazz and playing the trumpet. He did not fool around, he devoted himself to becoming a full-time musician although the need for money wasn’t there as it would be for most musicians.
Well, though summer is only halfway through, it seems my summer blog break is over. The keyboard has fallen under my digits and I’m here to pass along my thoughts. Let’s begin with the fact that after some 31 years of regularly holding an artist’s paintbrush for a living, I have not picked one up for that reason for over a month, but a commission will begin before too long. Most important though is I never really, at least for income purposes, ever have to again.
There will be a bit of a re-boot going on around here soon. Linda and I have purchased a home in Denver, North Carolina just outside of the city of Charlotte. North Carolina is a powerfully artful place and I can’t wait to bring you new juice from both there and here, as I go back and forth as my artistic aspirations swell.
I recently had a speaking engagement for Franklin Parks Art Center’s opening reception of their show titled Monochromatic. There I told the story of visiting the National Gallery of Art’s 10th Anniversary of the East Building and their exhibition - Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture: Selections for the Tenth Anniversary of the East Building.
For about the last decade I have been writing a column I created for The Middleburg Eccentric newspaper. Month after month, year after year I’ve passed along my creative thoughts and opinions and I’m so appreciative of those of you who let me know that you read it regularly.
Coming up on five years ago Linda and I started Live An Artful Life Magazine, which developed into more of a web-mag, but my digits hitting the keys didn’t care. I found it to be a place to expand on my thoughts past the space limitations of my newspaper column.
Chapter 2 in my new book Live An Artful Life is tilted, Lifestyle, Happiness, and Wellness. This chapter comes quickly in the book because of its overall importance to the process of living artfully. I begin this chapter with Life can be mundane if you allow it to be. The good thing is it doesn’t have to be. It just takes one simple change to truly live artfully, and that’s being carefree.
When I was a boy a real treat was watching the Ed Sullivan Show. For those too young to remember, Ed Sullivan had a very popular variety show. The closest thing we have to variety shows today would be something like America’s Got Talent. But during the 1950s and 60s, and even into the 70s, variety shows were very popular. One by one, Ed Sullivan would introduce his next act by saying, “And now ladies and gentleman…” and the next act would appear.
When inquisitive beginners ask me about painting, I tell them its a bit like cooking. You have equipment like a stove, (your easel), tools like pots and pans, (think brushes and palette), you have ingredients, (your paints), a recipe, (realism, abstract, etc.) and then there is you, (the chef).
After writing a couple hundred published articles, a poem and painting book, plus my book The Land Beneath My Feet five years ago, and this weekly blog, I can share that my digits have been quite connected to my keyboard. But piggybacking on all of this has been my new book, LIVE AN ARTFUL LIFE - The Art of Living Artfully.
Creativity is such a useful part of our human make up. I’m convinced that other species use creativity to live and survive. But what truly makes us as humans different is that we take creativity to the point of making art, which at the root of the matter, is just another form of communication.
The world is obsessed with weather. It is deeply rooted in us and for good reason - survival. Clearly, times in the past, when our world and food supply was less connected, bad weather could mean starvation. Crops could be wiped out or conditions leading to brutal winters, floods, and damaging winds, could be the end of us. To some degree, this is still true today, but far less so.
I have successfully authored my second or actually third book. My first book “Paintings with Poetry” when completed, presented itself as more of a booklet than a real book. But it was a beginning and I wrote every word. It was though “The Land Beneath My Feet” which celebrated 25 of my now over 30 years as an artist, that really first like my first book, because I had to tell my story. Still, the majority of its pages were dedicated to photos of my paintings. This meant I was not overwhelmed with textual volume.
Life is funny, sometimes you move about, sometimes you get nailed down. We purchased our home in 1993, just over 25 years ago. I never thought I would follow in my grandmother’s footsteps by being in one place for so long, but it’s happened. Twenty five years has slipped away in one place.
Do you have a plan for 2019? You know, a forward-thinking plan that capitalizes on the good things which may have happened in 2018, or a plan which recognizes a need to do something different to achieve your goals and make 2019 success? What is your success story anyway?
I mentioned in an earlier blog post about our cat Revlon being diagnosed with diabetes. The net result of her prescribed medication is improved health and altered sleep patterns for Linda and me. Insulin injections 12 hours apart, basically 7 am and 7 pm and middle of the night feedings mean the rooster’s call is less welcome.
With each week we go a little farther with the competition of my book Live An Artful Life. This week has been mostly about the cover design. A not so easy a task, I’ll tell ya that! They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in that light, a book cover is worth every word you’ve written.
I’m not sure how you accept change, but I think we all have to encounter it from time to time. Sometimes it’s a small change or series of changes, and other times change can be life-altering. It’s the life-altering kind that can get a hold of your brain and twist it into knots because we as humans are pretty good with settling in. Getting comfortable is at least a little of what we do and who we are.
Linda and I have had our share of pets over the years, (dogs, cats, and horses), but we are down to our last kitty. Her sister left us about a year ago and it seems her genetics have paved the way. The point being, there’s been a lot on our plate with respect to our pets health and it most certainly takes its toll on all facets of life.
As artists, we love to create and we derive a lot of pleasure from doing so. For many, this is all we care about, which is fine. But if your desire or intent is to make money from your art, even as a part-time thing, but certainly as a living, then it should be business before pleasure.
When I was young I loved cars. I loved reading about them. I loved hearing their engines and seeing their designs. I loved watching them race on programs like ABC’s Wide World of Sports and I loved going to races with my father.
2018 has been a milestone year for me as an artist. I’ve now been successfully selling my paintings for over 30 years. Three decades is a long time to do anything, but creatively it’s a long time to soldier on through changing economies, political unrest, and an ever-changing art business.
Linda and I have been thinking about our future. This includes alternative places to spend part or even all of our years. This is not about liking one place over another, but rather having a fresh outlook on life.
In my life as a working painter, oh how special projects have served me. Yes, I have happily painted and sold many gallery paintings and commissions. But the special project end of my business has placed a nice bow on the box that has been my gift in receiving a long artistic career.
Now 63 years of age, I can recall the first time I took a seniors discount. It was for a lifetime park pass which I use to visit Skyline Drive National Park in Virginia. After years, no decades visiting the park with my annual pass, I was honestly quite happy about being able to purchase a forever pass at the age of 62. Did that officially make me old? Well, I hope not, but it did give me a sense of my aging.
Last Friday I left on my motorcycle for a three-day adventure with a few old friends. Along with time spent with them during lunches and dinners, this was a time for me to become one with my motorcycle, and in the process it allowed me to become one with myself and the environment I was in.
The Value of Things
With last week’s post, I was mentioning hue and value (color and dark and light) being a couple of things I think beginning painters struggle a bit with. So last week I touched on hue or color first and if you missed it, I would recommend reading it first here. This week I’m going into value or the dark and light of things.
This past week I finished my book “Live An Artful Life”, which will be self-published and available later this year. I will admit it was a challenge for both Linda and me, as anyone who has written anything knows, there are words and then there’s keeping track of all of those words.
I ask myself this question. What if there were an international day of creativity? One in which every person, young and old, able and disabled, happy, sad, every race, religion, gender, and position in life, everyone, was asked, told or otherwise made to feel it should be done, created art?
The Fourth of July is one of the most artful days of the year. Just think about it, nothing is more freeing to your mind or soul than creativity. Making whatever you want while expressing yourself as you please. Complete independence! Then there’s a patriotic palette of red, white and blue, along with all of those festive and colorful firework displays!
Celebrate this Independence Day with the luxury of knowing you live in a country with protected artful rights! Not everyone can say that, but all of them can appreciate it! God bless America! Live An Artful Life! Tom
Those of us who think in terms of fine art may only think of greatness in the masters of bygone days. Those who make up the history of art and possibly much of the art which inspired us to become artists ourselves. We possibly may think of greatness in a teacher we are planning on taking a workshop from or alike.
If Americans were to be given a life survey, maybe one much like a political pole, or one with a number of life questions rated 1 to 100, where do you think the importance of art or the arts would land on the list? Would they choose it over anything that had to do with food, shelter or any facet of survival?
In a world filled to the brim with goods manufactured on an assembly line, it’s nice to know there are people like us making things by hand. As time goes on though, I even think almost all of the things still done by hand on an assembly line will year by year become more and more automated.
An old friend of mine once told me, sometimes you’re the tick, sometimes you’re the dog. A wealthy person, you couldn’t imagine him ever being the tick, but it’s how life in business goes.
The old saying goes; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It’s a simple statement of actual possession, versus more nearby. It is a bit flawed though, especially when it comes to friends.
When I meet creative wannabes, who tell me they have wanted to draw or paint, or even get back to it, but they’re having a hard time, I tell them all the same thing, doddle. There I am, at an art event or even a social evening and someone is either knowing or finding out I’m an artist, the conversation takes a familiar turn. In front of me becomes someone who admits they’re craving to be artistic, but no clue how to begin.
I recently read an article, which I’m sharing with you here, by Kyle Chayka with TheVerge.com. Chayka’s article; Elon Musk made history launching a car into space. Did he make art too?, explores Musk’s recent Space X launch, which was not only a technological wonder but became an artistic one too!
In today’s world of painters, certainly tools are an important part of the job. We can also look at tools as technology. Now many artists, especially those that deem themselves as purists, hate the word technology. They think of its use as cheating. Yet many wouldn’t think it was wrong to use a ruler to make a straight line, and whether you like it or not, a ruler is absolutely a simple form of technology. So is a pen, pencil and easer for that matter. They, like most technology, all use science and invention to make a task easier, or more efficient and often more precise.
I used to spend time on the racetrack, cars and motorcycles that is, and it’s known to the experienced, that the inexperienced need to be reminded to breathe. All the going fast and heavy concentration can be so overwhelming that newcomers literally end up holding their breath. They forget to breathe. So, guess what, often they forget to have fun too! They do go hand and hand. Being so focused, and yes, fearful of making a mistake, breathing and having fun become directly affected.
Art begins with a vision, but it’s a whole bunch of tiny decisions that make it a reality. If you paint paintings, or dance or sculpt or write, or even act, the completed work is always the process and results of hundreds of small decisions, movements or words. It is their collective being which creates a whole. In a sense, one small change in any one of those decisions is the creation of a new piece of art.
Every artist will find times of frustration. It goes with our world as much as the bliss of being lost in creation. Those times when time itself seems to stand still and we awake from the process of being engrossed in that which we love, and yet the hands on the clock did move, a lot.
Because you can! Not because you should. Your market dictates your prices, not you. So what do I mean by - because you can? It means because you can and your art will still sell. Not just because you feel like it. You may feel like buying a new car too, and maybe you can technically obtain it through financing. But that doesn’t mean you should, or that you can really afford it, does it?
Ideas are precious and they can also be fleeting. They can come at any moment, and be gone in the next. They can offer the most wonderful opportunity or become an opportunity wasted or lost. An artist without ideas becomes at best a renderer, not a true creator, so not grabbing and tightly holding an idea can be paralyzing.
After a career of painting for others, there are just so many lessons I could offer in the service of offering commissions. None though, is as important as listening. When you step into your studio to paint, the simple truth is that while you may have been wonderfully inspired, it is truthfully only you that you are listening to. You are the driving force of creation. You are calling the shots and you have to live with the results.
A person, no actually more than one person has told me, it must be great to paint paintings for a living. I usually end up saying, yes, I’m blessed to paint paintings, but I have to actually sell them for a living. Blessed is the understatement here, because for some reason my ability to paint paintings is actually fairly equally proportioned with my ability to sell them.
One of the things I love most about being an artist is that the very nature of the word means I make things. Artists make art. We make music, we make dance, we make drama and we make stories. Many beginners or even emerging artists may not truly think of themselves this way, as a maker of not only things, but thought provoking things of originality and ingenuity, and human spirit.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a currency with the faces of every living person on each bill, and just by having that bill you could meet that person? Meeting people is one of the greatest forms of wealth, period. It’s one of the reasons why a person like Oprah, as an example, is to me really so wealthy beyond their dreams and bank account.
Many artists find that there is a time of day when they are hyper sensitive to ideas and a free flowing mind. For me it’s the morning, just as I’m waking, but still lying in bed. My wife would tell you that I’m an idea guy, always coming up with new things. But first thing in the morning for some reason is the best time of all.
It is not as easy to look inside your mind as it is to look at your hands. The two have a great connection though. Look at them, your hands, front and back. Look at every finger and thumb, at every line and callus. Look at your hands that make things by way of skillful touch, grasp and feel.
So, your artwork is completed, and it’s time to sign it, what else should you write on your artwork? Well first, let’s talk about why you should even sign your artwork! Art is not only a creative thing, it’s a original creative property. You own the rights to this creation and certainly there is no better way in beginning your proof than signing it or making your mark.
We all care about health, particularly our health, and some certainly more than others. I have been fortunate to be healthy, but my parents weren’t so lucky. My father had a gene related ailment and both he and my mother were smokers. In the end their wellness failed them. Hidden message here - don’t smoke.
We artists can be like little squirrels trying to hide nuts for the winter. We put things here, we puts things there, we basically put stuff everywhere! It is as if we grow stuff in the way of odd stretcher bars, left over frames, photos, notes and sketches. Between the tools of the trade and the keeping of keeping on, we can be overrun by our own creative selves.
Juices not flowing? Need some creative stimulation, ideas and thoughts? Okay, here are 5 things that may put some perk in your percolator!
Look around you creatives, inspiration is everywhere! From the vibrant seasonal colors of spring and fall, to the varied greens of summer or countless earthy desert hues. Nature delivers and not just color, but sounds of the wind, water, birds and all kinds of man made things. Decades of architecture ascend, trees and mountains rise, sunrises and sunsets blaze the sky, as do the bluest blues and clouds of every shape.
Possibly the hardest thing an artist will do is find a proper value to put on their artwork, and here in lies a big part of the problem. Most often they begin placing the value solely on the product and not themselves. Listen, I’m going to come right out and tell you, this is a BIG topic, one I plan on more properly covering in my upcoming podcast, but let me try for now to offer a good perspective.
Delivering, hanging or placing your art in a client’s home or office can offer a wonderful opportunity to get to know your client better and to visualize their art needs, but do not forget that you are providing a service and you better do a good job of it. If there is one thing that has allowed my art business to grow, it is without question providing the service of free delivery and hanging my art. As an artist, it takes me to a whole new level.
We artists can be an interesting bunch can’t we? Filled with our quirks and characteristics. One such characteristic can be just defining ourselves as artists in the first place. For some there’s intimidation in the title. That, I’m not worthy, I haven’t earned it, a fear of putting the cart before the horse. Some of this comes from seeing the amazing work of masters throughout history, placed by society in that lofty place they hold in art history.
Okay, so you have been creating artwork or taking lessons for a year or so and you’re thinking you might like to sell your work. Is it time? Boy, this can be a hard question to answer. I’ve found that sometimes new artists attempt or even successfully sell their work too early and here’s why. Yes, you may be a protégé, gifted beyond belief, but for the most part you still haven’t likely found yourself, or found your feet in all of this. Just because you are making art, even art you and your friends like, doesn’t mean it’s time.
Often artists find gallery representation without even knowing what a gallery's real responsibility is in this relationship.You know your responsibility is to create artwork and get it to them, and it’s easy to assume that their responsibility is to sell it. Frankly, the gallery’s roll is one of representation, which means to show, market and sell your work. That would mean advertise it, promote it through social media, have shows to invite their clients to meet you and see your work.
They say oil and water don’t mix. Well, it turns out they were a tad wrong about that theory. Over 20 years ago, two very successful artists I knew and represented, largely worked in detail using acrylic paint,. Both over the course of a year made a switch to MAX water soluble oils by Grumbacher.
Are you the old mule, mindlessly pulling the cart in an effort to get the carrot dangling in front of you, while also stepping it up to avoid the sting of that stick at your rear? A friend who published a popular financial newsletter years ago once told me while discussing why people read his newsletter, that people are motivated by two things, greed and fear.
What’s the point of a book being part of a book club anyway. There’s a book, you read it, and then get together with like minded people and discuss it. Hey, that’s a great idea! So, let me ask how many of you have traveled to far away cities, and in the process of doing so you have visited an art museum? I suspect, many of you have. So, there inside are treasures from the art world, all with a story to tell.
What makes an artist an artist? Creativity right? Creativity is a bit like hurling a rocket into space. It requires fuel - inspiration, imagination, ideas. It requires energy or something to light the fuel - your burning desire. It requires a trajectory and target - your style, subject matter, narrative. It also needs space - a place for it to be in the universe when it leaves the ground.
Ever hear of creative juices? Well, if you don’t have these three things in your creative cupboard, it will be hard to get those juices flowing! Let’s face it, what makes an artist an artist is action and the action isn’t just a willy nilly movement, it is deliberate movement that gets things done, and done in a way that allows you to reach your goals.
It was for me. But if you plan to paint what you want, or play the music you want to play or do anything creatively that doesn’t have the typical 9 to 5 paycheck type opportunities - choosing what I’ll call a fine art path, is not an easy one, usually. It is why many also choose to keep their day job, which in many cases can also somewhat resemble or relate to the path they truly desire.
From time to time I hear stories of working artists having hundreds of pieces of art on hand from a proliferation of creation. Can you produce too much art? It’s not really talked about much. I can only say this, what seems to be the ever march to learn and love one’s craft, may also work against you in the goal of selling.
I’ve been selling my paintings for 29 years now, and of those 29 years, for over two decades worth I have offered commissions as a service to my clients. I use the word service, because I want you to make no mistake, that is what being commissioned is and customer service is what it is all about.
Saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, is like saying you could have never taught that dog in the first place. Life does work that way. We don’t learn everything we know while we are young. We do, however form a lot of habits. Some good, some bad and habits are often hard to change, especially the bad ones. But life is yours. What you do with it, what you make of it and what you learn when is up to you.