Friday, 28 February 2014

Redeemed Artist Part III

This is a continuation from my last blog post where I described my art journey up to the point where I got the idea to find a commercial gallery to represent and sell my paintings. I think that this part of the story will be especially useful to the aspiring artists. There is something to learn from every fellow art traveler, and that’s why I am writing this blog – for any one of you who can find something helpful here to use on your own art journey.

By early 2005, I was fully committed to painting landscapes and to my art career and I was entering “The School of Hard Knocks”. Most of it was fun, but I have to point out that concerns of the commerce did knock out some of the artistic innocence out of me. Here is how it all started.

By this time I got to know many professional artists, and I learned that self-reliance and resilience are important keys for success. But another important key are good business partners, especially for the commercial side of the endeavor. I decided that making art and building an art career late in life, in parallel with my day job was difficult enough. I was not going to sell my own work – I need someone who already knew how to do it. I am an engineer by vocation, I always worked for a “company” and I had absolutely no clue about sales and even less about “small businesses”.  I kept all my paperwork in a shoe box, and I claimed what I earned from sales in my tax return under “other income”…and that was the entire extent of my business knowledge. Oh, how much we can accomplish with so little worry! Ignorance is bliss indeed!

The most important thing for me was to put together a “consistent body of work”, which was about 30 acrylic landscape paintings which showed an emergence of a style. I think that the style came to me through the art of the masters that most inspired me (group of seven, the impressionists, the fauvists), through my unique treats (quirks of the brain-eye-hand coordination, taste for preciseness, affinity to the na├»ve…), through the characteristics of my chosen subject matter (shapes found in Canadian landscape) and through the particularities of the medium (techniques that can be done with acrylics).

Few paintings from my first solo show in 2005

I have shown my collection in January 2005 in a community gallery – The Port Moody Art Center. They gave me a solo show to which I invited everyone and their dog! I was so happy to let the world know that I managed to put together a solo show!  Looking back, the best value here was this quite sizable body of work and having no prejudices over its quality, value or destiny. I was like a kid at the “show and tell”, completely open to possibilities (and criticism).  Of course I had doubts and knew that some of it wasn't up to the par, but I just simply didn't have time to dwell on that. I was too hungry to start my art adventures. I will forever be grateful to the venue that hosted the show, to my hubby for the emotional and logistical support, and to the few wonderful art lover angels that purchased a few of my paintings. Few of them were colleagues from work that happened to love art.

 I will especially remember one woman whom I met three years earlier in West Vancouver where I was painting plain air with my art class. She had tears in her eyes and told me that she would buy if I ever decided to sell. So three years later I mailed her a photo of the painting and an invite to the show, and she stormed into the gallery crying “is it sold, is it sold?!”. If that kind of story doesn't get you inspired, I don’t know what will!

the “is it sold!?” painting

But the really interesting reward came soon after the show when a novice gallery owner contacted me and asked four questions:

  1.  Am I already represented by any other gallery in her area?  NO
  2. Do I have a body of work sufficient for a solo show? YES!!
  3. Is it all framed and ready to hang? YES!!!
  4. Can she come to my studio to meet me and see the paintings? …Studio?...ahem…yes…sure!

She had just opened a gallery and needed to fill it with affordable art. She looked up the web site of the best art association in the town (Federation of Canadian Artists) and emailed all the artists whose art she liked, or perhaps all of them, I don’t really know. In any case mine was there, and that’s how I got into the mix. Eventually about 5 artists from that bunch joined in. To put things into perspective, FCA has about 2000 members (not all of them artists), about 100 had put up their art on the web page, and about 5 of us joined the gallery. So lesson learned here was that it’s good to join places where artists gather, to put your best foot forward, and make sure you have lot of available pieces ready to hang.

The last piece of the puzzle was the actual meeting in “my studio”. I guess she wanted to see if I was a professional artist, and all of us who are balancing a day job and building a career later in life tend to doubt ourselves in this regard. So it may be helpful to understand my thought process at that point. I WAS a professional (I was very successful and respected in my day job). I  WAS commercially oriented (had a few sales from the FCA group shows and from my first solo show). And I WAS fully committed to my art career on daily bases (just not full time). It so happened that I was in the middle of selling our apartment and buying a house with a wonderful, huge ground level basement which would become my studio (and still is). So I met with her in my apartment, the paintings scattered around, and I think that worked great because 30 paintings in a small room look like a lot of art!

Pic from my first show in a commercial gallery

This first solo show in a commercial gallery (Lambert’s Gallery and Shop in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighborhood) went quite well. We sold a few pieces and the sales kept trickling in over the following few years until 2009 when the gallery closed down. By the way, galleries opening and closing is a reality of the art world that one gets used to, but that’s a topic for another part of the story. I will forever be grateful to Pamela Lambert for this early opportunity and for the time we worked together. We had many interesting experiences, memorable clients, and lessons about the art world that we learned together.

But “one gallery doesn't an art career make”, so I kept sending submissions to several other galleries that I thought would be a good match for me. I did this once a year, usually in January, reasoning that this is probably the time when they are doing annual planning. I sent about 5-10 submissions each time and got many friendly, polite and brisk rejections. I won’t dwell on it, but I will point out that the few friendly rejections encouraged me to re-submit each year and eventually landed me a great gallery four years after my initial submission. So my advice is to stick with reasonable and friendly people even if they momentarily are not able to help. On the other side, if someone is disinterested, disorganized or plain rude, I prefer to stay away, no matter how great business they do with other people. This is one great benefit of becoming an artist late in life, in parallel with, or after another career that gave us financial stability. We don’t have to work with people that we don’t like!

In 2007 I was accepted by two lovely galleries – Evans Gallery and Framing in Kelowna (BC) and Lando Gallery in Edmonton (AB). I just recently had a solo show hosted by the Lando Gallery, featuring Rocky Mountain Lakes. If you happen to be in Edmonton, drop by and say hi to Brent and Marie and take a look at my latest paintings, I hope you will enjoy them!

Maligne Lake, Jasper, acrylic, 24x30

There is so much that I want to write about my gallery experiences, which I will do in the next installment of the “Redeemed Artist”. And by the way, if at any time a question pops up, please don't hesitate to ask!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Snowed In

Just last week I was getting sentimental about the passing winter...and now this! I started a new painting of a summer scene for my "Wild Beach" series...but something just didn't feel right - maybe the view out of the window is to blame :-)

Snowed In Studio

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Mountain Sunset

I just can't get enough of these beautiful winter sunsets! One of the best things one can do in the midst of our winter is to spend an afternoon on one of the local mountains. I thought Vancouver's winters were gloomy until I discovered snow shoeing!

Mountain Sunset, acrylic, 24x30 by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
(available in Buckland Southerst Gallery, West Vancouver)

The best thing about show shoeing is that it is easily accessible and there are many free trails! The trails are so well used that you don't even need snow shoes - just normal hiking boots are sufficient, although I recommend using slip-on spikes to prevent from slipping. All three Vancouver mountains have great winter trails:

- Seymour: Dog Mountain Trail ,  Brockton Point and Second Pump Trail
- Cypress: Hollyburn Trail
- Grouse: Dam Mountain Trail

Even if you don't like to hike, just driving to the top parking lot on Seymour or Cypress Mountain, or taking the Grouse Mt. gondola (not free) will give you access to walk around in the snow and see stunning views, especially at the sunset time. The spring is sneaking in, so there won't be much more opportunity to see those snowy trees - at least not until next winter.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Redeemed Artist Part II

In my first blog post about the "Redeemed Artist", I started telling my story about becoming an artist later in life, with hope that other people in a similar situation may find some useful information in it. I know that I appreciated hearing about other people's experiences, so why not return the favor the only way I can! 

I left off my story at the point where my beloved art school the Vancouver Art Academy closed down. Here is what happened next.

Around 2002, after about 4 years of taking art classes, following all the directions of my teachers and repeating all the exercises endlessly, I felt a desire to hang my art on a wall next to my peers and to keep expanding the techniques I learned from my teachers.

I did some research and found that this can be done in shows run by art associations, so I joined the best one in the town - the Federation of Canadian Artists. What initially most appealed to me was that they hosted numerous members shows in a lovely little gallery on Granville Island, a popular artsy part of the town, and that they had a web site where members can publish their work. The works I have seen there were most inspiring and beautiful and the first time I saw it, I was hooked. I wanted to learn how to consistently create art of such quality.

I submitted 3 paintings, and when the jury accepted me, I took that as my first ever license to call myself an artist - what a wonderful moment that was! I started submitting paintings into every possible themed show that they organized. I think that I entered more than 20 shows per year for a few years, all very different themes and mediums, although my forte was watercolor portraiture for which I won several awards.

Anticipation, watercolor painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

I now had access to an entire art community connected with this organization, and consisting of many amazing established artists, some of them nationally and internationally famous, and also hundreds of people like me who were working hard on becoming artists later in life. Generosity of this community was amazing and truly inspiring. The myth that artists needed to be solitary, twisted, hungry and cut throat competitive was completely dispelled here. I have learned that a life in art can be inspiring, inclusive and rewarding in many ways. My wonderful new mentors, teachers and friends included the famous Robert Genn, Alan Wylie, Mike Svob, Janice Robertson, David Langevin and many more fantastic artists whose thoughtful  insights I cherish.

Plain Air Event with friends from the FCA: Robert Genn, Alan Wylie, Sinisa Mirkov, mystery friend, Bob McMurray, Janice Robertson, Teressa Bernard, Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Alfonso Tejada, Angie Au Hemphil

If I start listing all the great friends I made in the FCA, I am bound to miss someone, so I will just send a huge hugging thank you to everyone in the FCA who touched my life - each and every one of my FCA friends is truly precious! I hope that every art community has a similar group, and I wholeheartedly recommend budding artists to join in.

Between 2002 and 2005 I learned a lot about the logistics or art creation, and some fundamentals of navigating the art scene. While the focus in the art school was learning techniques, in the FCA I learned how to enter shows, photograph and frame paintings, the rules of copyright, how to set prices, how to organize my home studio (read - spare bedroom), and much more about becoming a productive and joyful artist. I even sold a few paintings in FCA group shows, to the astonishment of my family. One important point at this juncture was also about learning how to handle criticism, endure rejections from shows, and face all those difficulties that seem so big when they occur, and so small in the hind site. But every single one is a valuable lesson in strengthening the artist's character - what doesn't break us, makes us stronger!

At this time I decided that figurative watercolor paintings were too slow to create, models too difficult to find (and costly), interested clients too few.  I realized that I can utilize my love of nature so I switched my main focus to landscapes. Acrylic medium appealed to me because it allowed for fast, clean and mobile work.  I loved the idea of plain air painting, but at this point I was more confident in the studio so I stared creating a cohesive body of work based on Canadian landscape photographs from my travels in BC and Alberta. I am still adding to this body of work, and getting new ideas on daily basis after all those years, so I know that I made the right choice.

Interestingly, all my drawings, watercolors and oil paintings so far have been fairly realistic, but as soon as I started painting in acrylic, a distinct style started to emerge. I am not really sure how and why this happened. I remember that acrylic was the first medium that gave me a fair amount of trouble (I guess it still does). I am fascinated with it's endless possibilities and I'd like to believe that this ongoing struggle  makes me a better artist every day that I persevere.

One of my first acrylic landscape paintings

One side effect of actively participating in an art association is that one gets more and more involved in the actual running of the organization. I joined the FCA Board of Directors in 2005. I was thrilled to give my time and energy back to the organization, and even though this was a demanding and time consuming duty I am happy that I did it. 

This was the end of my honeymoon with art and beginning of the "school of hard knocks", because with a consistent body of work, and having learned the basics of the art scene it was the time to put my determination to become an artist into a next gear, and enter the commercial art scene.

More about that in the next installment of the "Redeemed Artist"!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Summer and Winter Paintings

It seems that many of us are fed up with winter by now! Buckland Southerst Gallery just sold a couple of my plain air sketches that I did in my back yard last summer - ah the memories of long sunny weekends on the back porch!

Mandarin Plant, acrylic, 14x11

Patio, acrylic, 14x11

But the winter is not over yet, and there is still fun to be had in the snow. Sinisa and I hiked right into a snowy, windy mountain yesterday and had a great workout. We met lot of cute dogs on the Dog Mountain trail :-).

The shapes of snow covered trees are so inspiring - I think that I am not done with snowy paintings just yet!

Mountain Sunset, acrylic, 24x30, Buckland Southerst Gallery

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Toxic Beauty

Recent series of Bob Genn's fabulous articles on pigments reminded me how many of those beautiful pigments that become part of our art, are very toxic. I remembered a list of controlled substances I've seen related to the electronics industry, where I noticed that the same toxic stuff appears in art and in the industry, but in art we seem to be much more relaxed about the potential health risks. I guess that we artists just love our job so much :-)

 Many art supplies manufacturers have web sites that talk about this, and every artist should read that, but in the real life, very few of us do. I guess that's OK, as long as we make sure that we use safe studio practices...which we always do...right? I think I do, but realistically, I know I could do better, so therefore, this article is meant to be a gentle reminder.

Just to clarify what I am talking about here, here are some of the "baddies" that I find on my palette: anthraquinone (blue), phthalocyanine (blue), formaldehyde (acrylic medium), pyrrolidone (red), cobalt (blue), zinc (white), carbon (black), titanium (black), cadmium (red, orange, yellow)...and much more.

Bad stuff is present in all types of paints - acrylics, oils, watercolors, pastels, etc. because the pigments themselves are made of it. Acrylic mediums and oil solvents contain an additional list of chemicals, so basically, all paints and mediums should be handled with due care.

The good news is that containers in which paint or medium are sold are clearly marked noting chemicals that it contains, and associated health hazards. The bad news is that I noticed that some chemicals that are listed as controlled substances in the industry, and not labeled as dangerous in paint, which makes me think that to be on a safe side, I might as well consider them all dangerous, and take equal care with them.

health warning on tubes of cadmium orange and nickel azo yellow

Another bad news is that many of those chemicals can (very) seriously affect health if they constantly accumulate, or pass through our body over long time period...and since artists hope never to stop painting, years of exposure to paint toxins add up over a lifetime. So it's best to minimize what get's in, as much as we can.

The ways chemicals get in are by inhalation, ingestion or absorption through skin - so:

1. Beware what chemicals are dangerous if not handled properly, or just assume that they all are
2. Beware which of our paints, mediums and solvents contain those chemicals, or just assume that they all do
3. Know how to prevent the bad stuff from getting into our body and environment:

Four simple rules for protecting artists from bad chemicals:

A. Don't eat paint - this means don't eat in the studio, clean hands thoroughly before eating, don't carry food in the same container with your art supplies, don't put brushes in your mouth

B. Don't inhale paint - this means vacuum, dust and wash studio surfaces and tools as often as possible, use rubber gloves when you do all that cleaning, if you have some other angel doing this for you, make them aware of the risks and safe ways to do it

C. Protect your skin - this means wash or protect hands from paint, wear clothes free of paint stains, replace paint rugs frequently. No, those photos of artist with smudged hands and faces wearing paint crusted overalls are NOT COOL!

D. Don't dump paint into environment - this means collect leftover paint and dispose of it according to your local community regulations, use Eco friendly cleaning substances, and don't introduce any other unnecessary chemicals in the studio.

I hope this one wasn't a snoozer!!! This is the only unavoidable risk of our profession, so let's be alert and at least minimize it!

There is an excellent European Chemicals Agency web site with lot of information about "chemicals in our life" here.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Redeemed Artist

It dawned on me that very few artists that I know have been committed full time artists for their entire career. Most of us have put our art on hold for a part of our lives for various reasons. Whoever did this knows the many challenges of transition back to art, so I think that this is an important topic. I wish I could read stories by other artists describing how they dealt with this. I’ll share my experience here, and use the opportunity to mention some wonderful people with whom I have shared this journey.

When I immigrated to Canada in 1994, the first thing on the agenda was to make a home and  get the financial security in order, but in just a few years it became clear to me that unless I start establishing myself as an artist, this new life won’t make much sense at all. I am very fortunate to have a husband who has been interested in sharing this journey with me. Both of us made equal effort to earn our living, and we enjoyed equal support in exploring our other interests - so when I discovered the Vancouver Art Academy, I dived into it heads first! I took night and weekend classes whenever I possibly could, consequently with doing my day job. It wasn't ideal, but it sure was darn good to be able to afford the classes and art materials and to have a spare bedroom as a home studio. I had enough time to learn because apart from my job, I was fully dedicated to my art. If we had decided to have children, the story would of course have been different, but that’s someone else’s story to tell.

Vancouver Art Academy on Prior Street, Vancouver, BC

I have attended classes in the Vancouver Art Academy between 1998 and 2003, and those were some of the best years of my life. This small private school run by artist Michael Britton and his partner Carmel had amazing roaster of teachers and I took classes from most of them – watercolor classes by Zhu Zhu Mark and Linda Cameron, drawing by James Linfield, oil painting by Paul Chizik, acrylic painting by Lena Leszczynski and Thomas Anfield, anatomy by Gordon Finley, egg tempera by Vladimir Blagonadezhdin, pastels by Natalia Vetrova, and finally the color theory, composition and narrative figurative watercolor painting by Michael Britton. The school itself was situated for most of its life in a dingy building behind Vancouver’s Chinatown on the Prior Street. 

The building was tiny and old, but I absolutely loved it. It was all about learning, absorbing and more learning and absorbing. Nobody worried about showing or selling art at that point. It was a sort of an innocent joyful art childhood, experienced by adults. Oh, we knew how lucky we were so we enjoyed every single minute of it. I will never forget the summer weekend lunch breaks that I spent sitting on the ancient roof overgrown with moss and ruled by a flock of crows. I could see down the Prior Street from there and up towards the Vancouver downtown - great memories! 

The classes were superb and I am forever grateful for every single one! I just regret that I didn't get to take a sculpture class by Mr. Santo Mignosa. I also wish I kept contact with many of the awesome people I met there; hopefully some of them will run into this blog and give me a shout! Incidentally Michael Britton is now running a hugely successful on line art school, and writing an amazing traveler's blog. I guess he approved of my progress since he wrote about me here.

The first chapter of my art education as a redeemed artist ended in 2003 when the Vancouver Art Academy closed its doors – I am still mourning that loss! My next step took me to the Federation of Canadian Artists that I will write about in one of my next blogs. 

Sketch of model Sonia from a drawing class

"Forgetmenot", example of my early figurative watercolor painting. It won couple of awards in national watercolor shows.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Taking A Breather

I am taking a breather after completing two large bodies of work. Finishing a big project is often followed by a down time that can become a bit too down and a bit too blue. So this time I decided to intercept the blues with a plan. What to do to force some rest before jumping into next action, but still keep the artistic wheels turning? Here is a list of useful tasks that are perfect for a time like this!

  •           Clean up the studio, get rid of things I don’t need any more (done, 6 garbage bags bursting with junk!)
  •           Examine the reject pile, recycle quality stretchers, paint over the smalls to use for sketching, obliterate and throw away the doomed ones (good task to do together with a willing helper)
  •           Frame the pieces that I want to keep for myself and family
  •           Go through the art storage and make sure everything is safe and sound (check for dust, dents and scratches, spiders,…   :-O)
  •           Update the web site with latest works (remind myself that the point is to have everything updated and functional, not to have the world’s most beautiful web site, at least that’s my excuse :-)
  •           Update the electronic archive and refresh all the backups ( at the minimum dump all files in one folder and make a backup)
  •           Watch all the art videos I have been saving and wanting to see (I made a cozy corner in a spare room for this so it feels like a mini vacation and a break from the routine)
  •           Play with pigments, do the color swatches with new pigments (it’s always great to discover fresh new color schemes)
  •           Sketch new composition ideas (I kept the best for the last, this is my absolute favorite. New wild ideas always pop up in this mode!)

I guess I better enjoy it while it lasts because new projects are already begging for attention. The plan for this year is to paint at least three bodies of work: The Lake O’Hara, Wild Coast, and plain air smalls. I can’t believe I wrote this down! Yikes!

Play time!

Studio and storage cleanup done - time to start messing it up again!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Rocky Mountain Paintings

In the dead of the winter, I like to remember summer adventures in the mountains, many of which have been captured in sketches and paintings. Heartfelt thanks goes to Brent and Marie for displaying my Rocky Mountain paintings in their gallery. Creating the latest collection made up entirely of my favorite lakes in Banff, Jasper, Yoho National Parks and Mt. Robson Provincial Park, gave me lot of joy. Beauty of those places is stunning. The thrill of seeing an alpine lake for the first time is hard to describe. And each one offers entirely different, uniquely amazing experience. I am already planning yet another trip to the Rockies for the upcoming summer! I could easily spend a lifetime painting those beauties!

Edith Cavell Lake, acrylic, 30x36