Sunday, December 20, 2009

Work in Progress

Here's a detail photo of a painting I'm working on, showing about 1/4 of the piece. This shows it at the completion of the underpainting layer, so it still needs the thicker top layers to go on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ramble Post: how changes in style and format intertwine

The following is adapted from an email that I sent to an old acquaintance from my comic book days. Since I'm still adjusting to the sleep deprived craziness of parenthood, I haven't had a chance to finish off any new paintings or write any new blog posts, but I had written the email recently, and although it was a bit rambly, it was serviceably interesting, so I've filled it out a bit and here you go:
All that being said, this thing became easier to manage when I accepted that it's a competition. I must've had some vague idea that there was some kind of sub-society of artists that Society at large owed a living to because of their altruistic or idealistic contributions to that Society's culture. Now I'm working on the idea of artists competing in a market. Yes, fellow artists will help you out and vice versa, but it's still a competition. If you produce better quality work faster, you'll do better. Artists who survive on government grants from arms length agencies are just in a different kind of competition with different rules. Yes, it kind of seems like a sell out to be including sellability as a factor for consideration in your work, but if I want to make a living at it, I have to. Those are the rules. Fortunately there's a pretty large intersection between what I like to paint and what is sellable, so I can easily restrict myself to a subset of paintings that is both things l like to paint and things that people like to buy. I still never have to paint something that I don't like.
So in the name of that competition, I concentrate on figuring out how to make better paintings, and how to make them faster. And eventually I figured out that that doesn't necessarily mean moving paint faster. It mainly means figuring out a style and a process that's faster, more economical. Figuring out where you spend the bulk of your time and paring it down if it's on things that aren't as important. In my case, most of my time is mostly about figuring out colour choices. When I first switched from comics to paintings, I originally figured out that producing multiple copies of a small painting at the same time allowed me to work faster: I could reuse the same composition, and I could reuse the same sets of colours. Sort of a mini production line.
I also developed a style that didn't depend on blending colours in the picture. That allowed me to pre mix a set of colours, and lay them down in discrete brush strokes. I think this method served to minimize the risks in the long string of choices that makes up a piece of art, so that it was more likely that the paintings would be good enough to show by the time they were all done.

There are other little things that I've used to speed it up too. I now use archival art markers to draw the lines, instead of the slow process of trying to draw with paint on plywood, in which you can only do very short strokes. That was really tedious, and the markers have cut hours off my paintings' times. Not only that but they allow the drawing phase to flow a lot better and the results are looser and more interesting. I also realized that paint costs were a small percentage of my expenses, whereas art show fees, travel expenses, cameras and computers were a lot more, so spending time trying to use 25% less paint because I was reusing colours only saved me $100/year. My biggest hold up is time, or making enough paintings to get into more galleries, so now I don't carefully lay out space on my pallet for colours that I might use later. I either just trash what I'm done with, or mix it all together so I have a blob of gray or brown. Much less thinking: faster and less energy used. That allows me to create more paintings over the course of a year, which is worth far more than the extra $100 or $200 of paint I might've used in the process.
Eventually, especially once I moved to the larger pieces, I found the premixed colour method to be slowing me down. I used to have to make enough of all the colours, even though I didn't really know which ones I'd use the most of, and I'd have to make extra colours just in case. Then when painting, I'd have to make sure to space the brush strokes out pretty much exactly right to achieve the right overall rhythm once all of the colours were applied. That added a kind of high wire tension to the application of the paint. Kind of deliciously nerve wracking in one sense, but in the end too much of a self imposed obstacle.

So I changed my style to accomodate that process change: once I decided to trust myself that I could still get good colour schemes even if they weren't all pre-planned, I could start with a single colour, apply it, then use it as the base for the next one in a progression, or switch to something completely different. So I only really have one or two active colours on the palette. What that means is that if accidentally stick my hand in the wet paint, I no longer have those colours saved to repair it, so I have more work to do to fix an error or an accident. That's fine, because that doesn't happen too often. But now I force myself to look at what I've just put on, and decide if it's good enough, and if it is, I'm moving on and there's no going back. If it's not, I touch it up, or scrape it off and just keep going. The previous colours are gone and I'll never mix them again. No safety net in a way. And that's fine, because I need to force myself to stop wasting time puttering around worrying about getting the colours exactly right. And I adjusted the style so I'm applying overlapping brushstrokes instead of discrete ones; I don't have to worry about where all of the rest of the brush strokes are going to go, and I can always just go over an area later if I think it needs an adjustment. I no longer have to agonize over getting all the colours right at the beginning of the painting.
Now I'm trying to figure out what to do about frames. I can build my own fairly quickly, but it still keeps me from making paintings, which is the unique part of what I do. I'd love to farm it out if I could find an economical frame that wasn't a complete mismatch with my pictures. The ones I make myself are pretty good, but I would be fooling myself to think that there aren't better frames out there. I think if I had better frames the art would look better. Be more valuable. The small pieces might not work that way though, because in my own frames the scale of the piece and style of the frame have an intimacy that goes really well together.  But with the big ones I think they might need something more polished in order to convince people that it is in fact worth the big bucks. Of course, a lot of hopeful artists blow a lot of money on frames and never make it back, and that's really the crux of the matter: what's the return on investment on the frames? You need frames that look great and are relatively cheap, and they have to be consistent. Nothing kills an artist's booth or show like having their paintings framed in 18 different styles of frame. 

Haha, that's more than I thought I was going to write. I should put it in a blog post. 

There's a saying about Canadian artists: It's not hard to be a famous Canadian artist: everyone else quits. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brand New Arrival!

Just in case you're wondering why I haven't posted in a while, it's because my wife just brought our brand new baby girl into the world. Oh yeah! I've been blundering around trying to appear helpful with the wonderful craziness that is having a new born baby in one's life, so the paintings and blog postings are temporarily on hold while we get a handle on how to do this parenting thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Work in Progress

Here's another photo of the same painting, but with a bit more of my messy studio. You can see the easel that I slapped together last year when I was trying to get ready for the One of A Kind Show in Toronto. I'm not very happy with it anymore, especially with the fact that I can't move a painting up and down while it's on there. This is an issue if I'm working on the bottom of larger piece, because I basically need to kneel to be able to use the brush at the right angle. And I need a screw driver just to adjust the height. So I get frustrated and grumpy, and somehow I don't think that grumpy paintings sell that well.

So I'm now contemplating buying a new studio easel, but those can be expensive and large, and my studio is small, so I'm also contemplating building something myself. It's basically a business decision: a good quality easel would pay itself in a few years by reducing the time I spend moving the painting or myself around, greatly reducing the number of grumpy paintings I produce, but it is an upfront cost, and I can only absorb so many of those. On the other hand, building one myself does save some money, but it also takes more time, which keeps me from painting, which keeps me from making money, so it has what I believe is called an opportunity cost. What the hell. I'll figure it out (hopefully soon) and I'll post the results.

I'm going to try out posting photos of work in progress on this blog. My fear is that I'll get some kind of stage fright if people get so see pieces before they're finished, because I'll get worried about wrecking it in the later stages. I suppose if that happens I could just pretend it never existed. Then if someone asks me about it, I'll use a Jedi mind trick and tell them it was not the painting they were looking for. Seriously, it was a different painting that went up in flames in the backyard.

Well, this one hasn't gone up in flames yet. Enjoy:

(click on it for higher resolution)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Coulda woulda shoulda - blogging about climate change

This one tears me up. Should I bother writing about these kinds of things? Climate change is something I think about a lot, and when I read about how the scientific consensus gets stronger and stronger and all the while more and more people are ignoring the science and accepting the denialist propaganda, I get really upset. That makes me want to get on my little soap box and shout about it, and post links to things that I think are relevant and important such as this one: George Monbiot on death and denialism But really, should I be blogging about things like that?

One reason not to bother is that this blog is a public face of my art making business, so I'm not sure that I can allow myself to go off ranting about this that and the other thing all the time. It's not directly related to my art, and I'm not really that interested in making highly politicized art. I want to make art and when politics get mixed in it it's easy to turn it into propaganda.

Another reason is that I would be risking adding extra negativity to my blog that would then be associated with my art. Extra negativity isn't good for my art or my sales.

However, the argument from the other direction is that it's pretty hard to separate the artist's art life from the artist's personal life, so to a certain extent the personal is relevant to the art. People want to know the stories about the art and the artist because it gives the art a context for people to understand it, and there is no meaning without context.

Finally, the last argument is about procrastination: if I'm busy blogging about all the climate change news I'm reading on the internet and linking to all the latest news, I'm not making art, and that's not a good way to pay the bills.

What to do? Maybe I'll just try to keep it to small notes about positive changes, either in my own life, or when I notice a really great example of people using their creativity to make positive changes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It Lives!!! (the long version)

As I mentioned in my previous post, aka, the short version, my new website is now up and running ->

Now that it is, I'd like to blather on a bit about why I did the rebuild and what I was thinking when I was making the UI decisions for it. One of the things I asked myself a lot while I was in the middle of building it was why was I going through all this work? Wasn't there a better/easier/faster way?

Why would I reinvent the wheel when I could have simply paid for a more generic content website, or got some open source code to futz around with, or used something like, or tried to get a Shopify site or an Etsy site to work for me? Basically, I ended up reinventing the wheel because every time I tried to go in an off-the-shelf direction, they were always missing a feature or two that I needed (such as gallery tracking or sold status or tagged searching), or they would have taken just as long to set up as it would have for me just to program my own site (open source software), or they ended up being too expensive. (Professional artist's studio management software can cost upwards of $500 per month. Yikes. Hopefully it does your taxes for you too.)

In the middle of that process, when I was second guessing my decision to build it myself, I would review my goals and the minimum set of features they entailed, just in case I could drop one or figure out a work-around and get a faster solution. In the end though, the alternatives were always found wanting, so I just kept chugging away on my own version.

Of course, I didn't actually make a set in stone list of those goals; the most I had were a bunch of scribbled notes in my sketchbooks. The overall list probably mutated in my mind over the course of the last six months or so, but here are the main goals that were (probably) always there and never went away:
  1. Easier Content Updates - Make the site more interesting and informative for people who follow my art by making it easier for me to update the content. If it's easy for me to go to my site and log in and add a new painting, or edit something about an artwork, then I'll post new content a lot more often, making it much more worthwhile for people to come back to my site and use it more often.
  2. Better Navigation - Make it easier for people to navigate through the artwork. Now, instead of constantly trying to figure out where they are in a large tree of categories, they can just click 'next' to see the next piece, or they can search for something specific that they'd like to see, like 'canoe'. To realize this goal, I decided I should have tagged searching on the artwork instead of having to put every piece into a category. For example, if I have a painting with a canoe by a lake with a tree, I no longer have to decide whether to put it in the 'lake' category vs. the 'canoe' category vs. the 'tree' category (is the lake more prominent, or the canoe, or the tree?) I can now add tags to the piece for all three terms and it will show up in a search that includes any one of those search terms. Woohoo!
  3. Galleries and Status - Allow visitors to see if a piece is at a gallery and where that gallery is and to see what's sold vs. what's available. This also allows me to use the site to track my inventory and much more easily keep track of where all of my paintings are and which ones are sold. This is actually kind of important from a business efficiency standpoint, because keep track of where every piece is and what it's status is can very quickly becomes a crazy shell game if I just use the accumulating pile of shipping and receiving lists. Even with a single gallery there are multiple overlapping transactions: I'll send them some, they'll sell some, I'll send them some more, I'll take a few back, they'll sell a few more, I'll send them some more, etc. It's just really easy to lose track, and if I can easily update the location and the status of the pieces on a small set of pieces every time I send some out, it will make my life easier and more efficient, which gives me more time to paint. Yay!
  4. Shows and Events - Make it easier for me to update events, and therefore easier for visitors to find out where I'm going to be showing - I don't need to futz around with the HTML any more for my show and event listings, because the app will now automatically figure out which list to put them in -> coming up, on now, or past events. This saves me time and reduces stress. Also Yay!
  5. Easier Design Revisions - Make it easier for me to modify the design or the behaviour of the site. This is similar to goal number 1, but basically, it's now easier for me to work with this site. For all you techno-dorks out there, it's built using the ASP.NET MVC architecture with the LINQ to SQL ORM, and there are no tables in the HTML, so I can change the design using the css. This is much more powerful and easier to use than my old super-clunky home-made HTML generator template system, which seemed to make every job require as many clicks as possible. (Ugh.)
  6. Finally, KEEP IT SIMPLE - avoid the bells and whistles. When developing this site, it was really really tempting to add slick looking things like image gallery sliders and animators and magnifiers and exploding drop down menus and AJAX data candy widgets and all kinds of the new funky stuff that the inter-tubes web is now full of, but I had to keep myself from adding them, simply because the goal of the website is to make it easier for people to view my artwork, not to make cool software. The artwork is the prime attraction. Fancy web kit doesn't necessarily make it easier to view, and it can take a lot of work to set up. It also just tricks people into thinking that I'm a cool programmer guy. I'm pretty sure that people coming to my site don't really care about whether or not I'm a cool programmer guy, and if I think about it pragmatically, I only make money when I sell paintings. I don't make any when I pretend that I'm such a great programmer. Which I'm not, by the way => I'm actually an old fuddy duddy grumpy pants who complains about the kids on his lawn. ;)
So, there's the long detailed story. Hopefully you've found it interesting and I haven't put you to sleep. I'll have a new post soon about why I decided I needed a new website, but more from the perspective of trying to build a career as an artist instead of the specific details. Till then, have a good one!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It Lives!!! (the short version)

It's now up and running:!!!

Short version:
Main new things:
  1. the artwork is now searchable so it should be easier to navigate and view the work
  2. I’ve finally added much of the work I’ve done over the last year and a bit, so much of that’s now visible too.  I still have a few dozen pieces to upload, and but I’ll be adding those shortly.  
  3. the new website’s architecture should make it easier for me to make improvements, so I’ll be tweaking it fairly frequently to make it look and work better.
Finally, I won’t be showing at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto this year due to the fact that my wife is expecting and the due date is right in the middle of the show, so since I'd rather stay married, I'm going to stay home for that one. :)

I am hoping to do a show in Toronto in the spring, and I’ll be making more announcements about that later.

Marcel Guldemond

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Launching new website

It's getting there. I've still got some Windows security / permissions issues that make me really hate Windows Server 2008, but it's almost there. You can see it here: (this currently only has artwork up until July 2008, so I still have to add everything after that.)

Eventually should also work. 

Of course, I haven't been able to get my admin login to work so now back to wrestling with things like AspnetMembership and SQL Server and stupid file permissions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Website Almost Ready to Launch

I've got a couple of minor tweaks, and then all that's left to do is to deploy it to the host server and get the domain names all pointed to the correct spot. Yeah, famous last words really: 'All that's left to do is...' - is hit a giant unforeseen snag in the deployment process, that's what. Actually, that's my old school programmer paranoia rearing up: it used to be the deployment process was fraught with snags and gotchas. Something that worked just fine on the developer's box would invariably break down and whimper in a corner during deployment. These days however, the process seems to work much more easily with modern servers and operating systems. Phew.

Anyway, I hope to have it up and running within a week, with all of the older artwork, and then I'll start adding the pieces from the last year that I haven't put online yet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old serializer comics still online

I just did a google on myself and discovered that some of my old serializer comics are still online: dot dot dot

That's a kind of strange experience to discover art work that I'd almost forgotten about still floating around out there.

Old blog location (has art photos)

Here's the location of my old Shopify based blog: aporia-blog It has my old posts, including a bunch with photos of artwork and related things.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Moving my blog to blogger

Hey there, while I do have a blog hosted on my Shopify site, the design of that page is really quite different than the design I've got for my new upcoming shiny happy website, which I should be going live in the next week or so.

Since I won't be using Shopify any more, (not because Shopify's not great, because it really is, I just don't sell any of the items I listed there anymore, and the design on the Shopify based blog is a lot different than my new website) I've decided to move to a blogger blog. It's just a lot less work to start a new blog here on blogger, where I could just use a standard theme that basically matches my new website, than it would be to figure out how to do the redesign on the Shopify blog.