Black, blue, and cow eyeballs

Did you learn about the color wheel in a school art class? I remember it vividly from elementary school. It looked about like this, just primary and secondary colors and basic understanding of complementary colors.

I remember thinking how “ugly” purple and yellow looked together, or generally if you mixed complementary colors. I didn’t think about it much after that.

Flash forward to now. I’ve been taking an oil painting class at Compass Atelier, which is fantastic. It’s great for artists at all levels, and Glenn, the teacher, is just wonderful. His way of explaining color and light theory, as well as practical application is really compelling. In my case, it’s also been a bit earth-shattering.

Do you know that feeling when you’ve believed, if only latently, something for the vast majority of your life, and then suddenly found out it wasn’t true? For example, there was a moment in 9th grade biology–the part where we had to dissect a cow eyeball–where I remembered a Kindergarten playground incident when someone told me that when you close your eyes, they roll backwards to face the back of your head. Let that sink in for a few minutes. Now picture yourself, or me, looking at a dish with an eyeball in it, and connective tissue. It was enlightening. And gross.

Back to art. It was probably science class, or something like that, where I learned or started to believe that black is the absence of color. Maybe I got it confused with the absence of light and outer space? I don’t know. Anyway. This time around, we’re working with a more sophisticated version of the color wheel (think rings and spectrums), and the concepts of hues (color families like red vs. blue), saturation, and value. It’s a great resource for color mixing–so much so that Glenn only recommended buying at most 10 colors “out of the tube.” We need way more than that in terms of shades nuanced colors, but you can get to anything with blending!

So here’s the kicker, and the reason this post has black and blue in the title. To help us with our blending, Glenn had us plot our oil paints (Gamblin) on the color wheel. That way, you can basically use lines across the wheel to help figure which colors and in what proportion get you to the variations you want… after you figure out the tinting strength of each. For example, as I have learned, Pthalo Blue, whoa mama, is waaaaay stronger on the tinting front than, say, Cadmium Yellow, so that changes the mixing ratios.

After plotting the “regular” colors, we got to Ivory Black (more on that later–vegans, you’ll want to read this*) and Titanium White. Guess where they went? In BLUE. Granted, the saturation was super low, but yes, black belongs to the hue blue. I was shocked. You can test this, and we did, by mixing black paint with yellow. Because what do you get when you mix blue and yellow? Green. What do you get when you mix black and yellow? Green–granted, muddy, dark and not the pretty jewel tone you might normally expect, but it’s green. Add some white, or a LOT of yellow, and you’ll see it clearly. It’s harder to demonstrate with white, but at this point I’ll take his word for it.

*It’s later. Ivory Black. Titanium White. Cadmium Red. Oil paint names start with the major ingredient–what was burned/processed to get that particular color. At least one type of black used to burn ivory (!) in a vacuum chamber, and the ash was the foundation of the color. Now they use animal bones. So, if you are a strict vegan and involved with art–either as a painter or a collector, here’s one more thing to worry about. Sorry.

The Art of Business, The Business of Art, Part 2

There’s a reason “starving artist” became a clichéd phrase. I read a murder mystery once where one of the (many) deaths was an up-and-coming artist. The motive: Kill the artist, destroy 80%-90% of his work, and own the rest, which will naturally skyrocket in value. How can you be an artist, stay alive, and and live a reasonably comfortable, stable, life?

Obviously, some people make it work. There is the work-many-jobs option. And there are the lucky/talented/hard-working ones who “make it.” But it seems a bit like kids who are stellar high school athletes and believe they can make it in the pro leagues, not quite recognizing the statistical improbabilities. We just see the ones who make it, we don’t see the thousands who don’t. (Apparently, this is also similar to drug dealers–the difference between the low-level neighborhood street corner pushers who aspire to be the head kingpin. They’re never going to make it, but the allure of the perceived lifestyle is too attractive. I want to say Malcolm Gladwell, or someone like that, wrote something about this.)

Anyway. Entering the world of e-commerce and POD sites (e.g., TeePublic, RedBubble) or those for small businesses (e.g., Etsy), it is abundantly clear that they are flush with really talented people. It’s also clear that people who started early and became well-established have a huuuuuge leg up on everyone else. (I’m looking at you, shops with 10,000+ purchases.) I’m trying anyway, but what do you do? Again, per my “I want an Intern” post, I’m not all that interested in the self-promotion activities that seem to be required. At first, I (naively) thought it would just be a matter of posting to Instagram–hey, that I can handle. Oh, foolish, foolish, past self.

Putting on my MBA hat, I figure it basically comes down to solving one or both of two issues. 1) Per above, finding the right way to reach the people who would like what I make. 2) Figuring out who I can most easily reach (preferably that others are not) and make what they like. The latter would be called “selling out” by some. Or “practical” by others. I imagine in some artistic circles “commercial” is a dirty word. I’m not so highbrow. But, that also isn’t what I love about art, because it’s not expressing me and my vision.

Recently, I was working “on spec” on some graphic designs for some corporate swag. It’s a great opportunity, and perhaps one path to pursue over the long-term as something a little stable. But oh, it did not satisfy my creative needs. And as someone pointed out (intentionally ungrammatically), “thems that pays the bills gets to decide.” But it was a little bit painful to have to execute on someone else’s choices when I thought something else would be better. I think there has to be a high ratio of time spent on truly creative art versus “commercial” art to make up for it.

So. Where does that leave me? Us? Pretty much where I was at the start of this post. I’m still trying different things to see what might work in this overly saturated market. Trying to find out if my actual interests might overlap with a hidden empty niche. Trying to figure out how to reach what is apparently my demographic, according to Instagram—hey ladies, roughly ages 25-40!. And continuing my art class, to make things, and just keep going…

While I’m doing this, if you’d like to help me out and like what you see on my website or Instagram (@frommytwohands), please share it with your friends and family (or strangers, for that matter). You could consider the pieces of mine that you see examples–I’m truly very happy to make custom pieces, especially of my alphabet collection given the personal nature of initials and then design preferences.

Oh and follows, I could really use some of those if you are so inclined, particularly on IG…. thank you!

The Art of Business, the Business of Art, Part 1

The featured image of this post has nothing to do with the subject. I just decided to start using pieces I’d already created, since a) I like them, and b) as should be obvious by now, I’m working on the whole self-promotion issue, and I have no idea what you’ll click on.

I can’t say that I’m very fond of the intersection of art and business in practice. Previously, and in theory, I expected it to be interesting and a fun new challenge to figure out. That is partially true. There are new challenges to figure out, and some of them are interesting–not good or bad, just interesting. But I wouldn’t call it “fun.” I suppose this is another example of how anything can become “work,” in the most pejorative sense of the word, even if it starts out as a hobby.

In my “manifesto” on the “About” page, I advocated for exploring and making what you love, and not worrying about a niche. I still believe that, but only insofar as you’re doing it for fun, and not for money. Because, unfortunately, if you’re trying to build a business, at some point you’re also building a brand–however small (we’re not talking Coke and Pepsi here). You have to be known for something, even if only among a very small audience. When people look at your shop–online or bricks and mortar–it should make sense to them, be cohesive in some way. They’re more likely to remember you, to think of you when they need X. To think of you as a professional or as of higher quality in making X.

Which brings me to my second point. You can’t be good at everything. If this is for fun, it’s totally fine to dabble. I love dabbling. How will you know if you like something unless you give it a try? But unless you are amazingly gifted–and maybe not even then–it takes practice and the investment of time and effort to become an expert a master of something. Enough of one that people think, “I have to have that.” This is where the old saying, “jack of all trades, master of none,” becomes relevant.

There simply is not enough time in the day to become a master in as many things as you might dabble in, AND establish a business. The studio where I take my art class has a number of quotes posted in it. There’s one that goes something like, “The difference between the student and the master is that the master has failed more times than the student has tried.” I love that. But think about what that means for your investment of self. It also reminds me of hearing somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything–it might have been in the context of learning a musical instrument.

As for the business side of things, well, I refer you back to my “I want an intern,” post. That only skims the surface of marketing and social media. It doesn’t even get into the really fun things like bookkeeping, customer service, and so forth.

More to come in Part 2.

I want an intern

I now see the value in interns. By value, I mean someone who will do everything I don’t want to do. Unpaid, of course. I understand social media is how you reach people these days, but honestly, it takes so much time and effort and how to do it effectively is an entirely different question. Naturally, there have been dozens of people who have offered to grow my social media influence/reach exponentially–for a “nominal” fee.

There’s also the grunt-y technological tasks. Every website you upload an image to has different requirements/preferences, in terms of aspect ratio, resolution, and whether the background needs to be transparent. Then you have to decide on (hash)tags, and for retail storefronts, make sure the image fits properly on the right products. Of course, different product categories require different aspect ratios, so you have to upload different files. For social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc., I also have to decide if I’m watermarking images to deter theft. So, at the end of the day, I usually end up with about 8-10 files for the same design image. I’ve probably spent as much time putting it online as I have creating it, and I don’t like that ratio.

I just want to make art. Why is that too much to ask?

Hence, the desire for an intern. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m not the most social media savvy person, and I need someone about 20 years younger to help with that. If nothing else, to keep up with all the most popular hashtags on Instagram.

…Aaaand we’re back.

It’s been both an incredibly fast- and slow-moving couple of months. On the website/crafting-front, my ideas and interests have evolved considerably. There was an inkling (possible pun intended) of that in my last post about watercoloring. Since then, I’ve started an oil painting class, and also became obsessively enamored with digital art (no mess!)–more on that later–and also fancy lettering.

You may also have noticed another do-over of the look of the website. I spent a lot of time thinking on what I wanted it to be, what direction I was headed in, and even tried to learn a little bit about social media! So while the website has been under renovations, the instagram @frommytwohands has been very much alive, with posts almost every day. I’ve also started a Facebook page, because apparently Facebook is still a thing. Follow both please! This website has handy dandy social media icons on nearly every page to make it easy!

I’ve also started storefronts on a few sites, Society6, TeePublic, and Zazzle–more details here. For those unfamiliar, I upload my designs, and they produce all sorts of goodies and send them directly to you–including furniture, bedding, stickers, t-shirts, yoga mats, mugs, tote bags, stationery, and other home decor items. Here are a few examples from my shops:

Etsy will be coming soon! It will, for now, focus on photography and art prints. (Some art prints are available at Society6, but I suspect Etsy will be better–in the interests of full disclosure, I don’t control the pricing on those sites…. It’s a fascinating business model.)

So with all of that going on, I thought I might finally get back to the fun part of writing about making things and start pulling everything together.

Have you heard the old story about the cobbler’s children going barefoot? I’m the MBA consultant who is kind of ignoring all the advice I’ve ever given about business planning. I might come back to thinking about that, but for now, I’m doing what I feel like doing :-).

Just add water

This isn’t so much a written post as a semi-annotated photographic one…First, there’s a watercolor of poppies, starting with pencil and ink, then filled in with traditional watercolor.

Second, there’s an in-progress birthday card using brush pens… and then water. Still starting with pencil and ink:

The brush pens have somewhat different color options, but also (IMO) allow more control to start with–helpful, with so many tiny petals. With water and a tiny paintbrush, you can still blend colors and try different saturations.

Giant paper flowers

What else is there to say? There was a lot of modpodge involved.

Okay, there is more to say. First, use heavy paper to hold the shape better. Second, it really helps to have a rolling pin-like object (but narrower in diameter) to curl the petals. I made do with paint brush handles, but they taper, and it became awkward. Third, be sure to use differently shaped petals in different flowers (or the same flower). I found myself drawing the same teardrop-type petal repeatedly, without realizing it, and even then had to force myself to try something else. Fourth, the middle of the flower is hard. I think my favorite one is in the top left photographs, where rolled together mini-petals could just tuck between the inner part of the flower. Lastly, the tutorial I read said to use a hot glue gun. I don’t have one and used Mod Podge instead. It worked just fine.

Odds and ends and bits and bobs–and Modpodge

One of the reasons I like making a collage is that you can use (nearly?) anything. And you can make anything–something abstract and head scratch-inducing, or something with a bit more realism, or anything in between. I kept it relatively simple this time. An old Apple (tech, not fruit) box as a base, and a few catalogs from Pottery Barn and White Flower Farm (gardening). Lots of colors to be found in these types of products!

I started by drawing an outline of the image I wanted to make with my collage on the box, a lotus flower:

Then I started the fun part of tearing out pages from catalogs that had the shades of blue, green, pink and yellow that I might want to use. It was a messy process, and mind you, this photo is from AFTER I started trimming pages and sorting into color piles.

And then the gluing! First the sky and water, then the lotus pad, and then the flower petals. My working theory was moving from least perfect to most perfect pieces, so ultimately the pink flower would cover up any rough edges or weird overlaps from lower layers.

It’s not quite finished, but I think it’s coming along nicely:

Ack. Priorities.

The list of creative projects I want to do, that are either in progress or not yet started:

  • Rose garden duvet cover (finish)
  • Experimenting with watercolor
  • More doodling with colored pencils and pens
  • RBG cross stitch (finish)
  • Shades of blue and white braided rug (finish)
  • Braided-braided flannel möbius scarf (experiment)
  • Duvet covers for other 3 seasons (summer, fall, winter)
  • Baby quilt gift (way overdue to finish)
  • Decoupage/collage-based images of flowers or other scenes (experiment)
  • Paper or fabric flowers to hang on mobiles (experiment)

Yes, these could take quite some time… especially considering I can’t decide where to start.

Anyway, take this as a list of things you may see popping up here and there as I get going…