This stage of a painting is always so much fun. Things happen REALLY fast and the instantaneous effects of big swaths of color are always exciting for me. It's a new beginning with endless possibilities.
Sometimes this stage of the painting calls to me, asking, "can't you leave me like this? Unapologetic, bold, and in your face." I seriously consider it sometimes. There is something about it that just feels true and unafraid. Of course, after seeing how this piece turned out it just doesn't even compare.
I think that is how life can be a lot of times. We might thing something seems good, or good enough, and we think we should just stop where we are. Moving forward courageously can produce some really great results and end with a beauty and deepness that we didn't know we could have. I don't know... it just seems to resonate with me in this moment. There is still beauty in the first part, as there is beauty in all the stages of our lives, but putting in the work sure does make a difference.
On the art side of this, I'm seriously considering a series of some sort with the blocky, pop-feeling paintings. We'll see what comes of it, but the creative juices are flowing. That's always something to be grateful for too!
Some things can be hard to write about because they are so beautiful that words aren't adequate. Some things are hard to write about because they are sad or tragic. Some things are hard to write about because they are the truth. The truth can be painful-- the truth can be painful to other people too. Sometimes the truth feels like a secret. Sometimes telling the truth feels like a betrayal. This post is a little bit of all of these things. This post will be hard to write.
When I was about 5 years old my parents divorced. I lived primarily with my mom. There were a lot of challenges as I was growing up, but one of the biggest was that the second man my mom married was very very mean. Just thinking about him as I write this, makes me feel a tightness in my chest, and the fight or flight hormones sweeping through my body. He was a bad man. He punched holes in wall, beat our animals, and was physically, emotionally and psychologically abusive. He also hugged, kissed, and sometimes touched my friends in ways that were not appropriate, but not inappropriate enough to identify.* He was a bad man.
While they were married there were times I wanted to move to my dad's, but my sister lived with my dad. I was afraid that if I moved too, my mom's husband would kill her and no one would be there to call the cops. As an adult I wondered if this was just a child's imagination running wild. I didn't think so, but this type of situation is so confusing for children. As an adult my mom told me that he tried to run her over with a tractor when they were going through their divorce. He was a bad man. He was mean. He blamed me for adult problems, he acted like I was the problem. No doubt this type of abuse created emotional wounds, trauma, and confusion.
They divorced right before I started high school. Home life after their divorce continued to be hard. I don't think I could write about this tumultuous time succinctly enough for this post, but suffice it to say that my mom did not have a stable foundation. She found new men, most of which were equally unstable and/or aggressive. She and I did not get along much of the time.
I remember the day that I moved out. I was a senior in high school. During the school year I went to school during the day, worked horses on a ranch after school until late evening. Sometimes I worked so late that I ate dinner at the ranch before heading home to do homework, shower, and get ready for school the next day. I was not home much, but I was responsible, worked hard, and made good decisions. On this particular day I was eating dinner at the ranch. My mom called me angrily asking me where I was. I told her I was eating dinner. She began yelling at me that I needed to be home and help clean the house. An argument ensued. I remember at one point, suddenly feeling a strength and calm that I had never felt. I knew that I did not have to listen to someone yell at me. I very calmly said, "If you yell at me any more I'm going to hang up the phone."
"Fine, hang up the phone," she yelled back. So I did. I texted her later that I would "be there the next day to pick up my stuff," and I was.
After I moved out I had so many wonderful people help me in so many ways. My life has had some really really hard times, but I have been so blessed by the people who have helped and supported me along the way. People who have helped me far more than could have even been asked.
This painting, titled "Inner Light" is for two such people. My friend's parents who took me in, gave me a room, fed me, took me on vacations, fixed my truck, and even helped me with my prom dress. I wrote a letter to go with this painting and I want to share part of it here because I think it is a good explanation about the piece.
"John, I think you were the first person to recognize that there was a sadness in my bison paintings. I wonder if it is because we both, in some ways, cherish the sadness we have experienced. Not that we put it on a pedestal and worship it, but we recognize that looking it full in the face provides some wisdom, some perspective, some compassions. Because looking away from sadness (our own or others) is cowardly. Some people try to run from sadness, some people try to ignore it... But life, in all its glory, can't escape loss and sadness.
I think people like us cherish it because we find the immensity of it grounds us in the world, a communion with humanity. Maybe sadness is about acceptance-- accepting what is, what can't be changed. But equally wise is to cherish our joy, to breathe in the good things in life with helpless abandon, not tamper them down in anticipation of pain. I'm learning that within myself there is a power and strength that I never knew I had, and I think maybe that is because I'm learning to be brave with sorrow and with joy. I don't have to diminish them. This painting is titled "Inner Light." It is about finding a deepening of strength and wisdom in joy. It is about a holistic way of being that looks sadness and loss in the face while also enthusiastically celebrating the happy, joyous things. It is about trusting one's self.
Vicki, most of my bison are female, and this one is not different. I often find them to be very motherly-- or a representation of good mothering. I suppose that is a bit of an ironic motif for my paintings-- maybe it is a way of mourning, and trying to create what I didn't have. So for you, this is a tribute to being "Mother," not just to Vanessa, but to all those who you have mothered-- and I know it is quite a few. Bison as "Mother" is a guardian, a keen and watchful eye. She is a protector and a provider. Thank you for being "Mother" to me. Thank you for opening your heart and your home to so many who needed just that."
*Even though we couldn't fully identify what was happening our instincts told us it was wrong. We felt uncomfortable about it. We would talk to each other about it and would "rescue" each other from uncomfortable situations. Finally, we told adults, which did get it to stop.
When clients ask me to do a commission for them it is such an honor. One of the first steps to starting a commission is submitting a photo(s) to me to use as a reference. Sometimes clients already have several great photos to choose from, but sometimes they need to get a photo. Here you will find tips on taking and choosing the best photos to send for your commission.
1: In focus- It goes without saying that the photo should be in focus. The subject should be sharp and clear.
2: Lighting- Even lighting across the subject, especially their face is important. Uneven lighting can make it tricky to identify colors, patterns, and face shape. Sometimes shadowy light can help create a more moody image, but generally it is best to have even lighting.
3: Pose and facial expression- Generally you want to pick an image where your pet looks happy, calm, and engaged. Think a photo of your dog looking up at you versus pulling on a the leash with wild eyes. If the commission is only the head and neck the body does not matter as much. If you are commissioning a full body painting, make sure your furry friend is in a position that looks comfortable and natural.
4: Perspective- Perspective can totally change the feel of a photo. Imagine a photo taken from above of your dog laying down. How much different would it feel if you get down on the floor and
5: Taking your own photos- When taking your own photos make sure you have good light. Outdoors a little after dawn, or before dusk, when the light is still soft is great. Overcast days are also fantastic to shoot mid day. Current phones take great photos so it is unlikely you will need special equipment to get a good shot, unless you are trying to get an action shot. Action shots are much harder to get sharp images, and the right timing. If you are wanting to try and get an action shot on a phone, you might try making a video and taking several screen shots.
If you aren't taking an action shot (and even if you are do a few of these as back up), pose your furry friend in a natural position. Then consider the angle you will shoot from. Dogs and cats can look very cute when looking up at the camera. Try several angles to see what you like best.
If your pet won't look at you try making a high pitched squeaky sound, meowing, whining like a dog, showing them a treat or toy, or gently shaking a bucket of grain.
Be patient. Some animals can be harder to photograph than others. Take your time over a few days. Experiment with trying to pose and photographing them and just catching them when they are resting or playing. For very hyper and distractible dogs make sure to give them a lot of exercise and a chance to calm down. Photograph them during the time of day they are usually most calm, and don't take them somewhere with a lot of excitement.
Final thought: There are instances where clients are unable to get better photos because their pet has passed. In these instances clients submit several photos and I utilize all of them to capture the animal from multiple images. Of course, this is more challenging, so this is only used when necessary.
Prints vs. Reproductions- prints are made by a printmaker by transferring an impression from one surface to another. Reproductions are when a visual artist creates a scan or photo of their work and has it printed. The printed piece is called a reproduction.
Quality- Giclée reproductions are made using a printer that sprays pigment onto the surface. This results in a clear, high quality image, with no pixelation. High quality reproductions should also be made on a high quality, acid free surface. I use Hahnemühle Photo Rag®, which is a white cotton paper with a soft feel and lightly textured finish.
Limited Edition- Make sure you the reproduction you are purchasing is a limited edition. The smaller the run to more valuable it is. Obviously if only 200 people can have something it is a lot more valuable than if 5,000 people can have it.
Markings to look for- Make sure the artist has signed the reproduction itself. This should be done with pencil or sometimes with an acid free ink. The print number and edition size should also be written on the reproduction. That looks something like this "5/300" (fifth print in an edition of 300). The smaller the edition the better, and the lower the print number the better.
Sometimes a reproduction will say "AP" before the number. This means that it is an "artist proof." Artist proofs are used by the artist to guarantee quality. There are very few of these printed so being an artist proof increases the value. Artist may also include the title of the piece on the reproduction.
Hand embellished reproductions- This is when an artist draws in the margins, or actually goes back onto the reproduction to add drawings, paint, etc. to the reproduction. Having a hand embellished element increases the value of a reproduction.
Open editions- and open edition is when an artist does not limit how many reproductions they will create. It is not advisable to purchase these for collecting as the value is decreased significantly. These are often created on lower quality paper or as posters.
I hope this information helps you understand how to get high quality reproduction that will retain or grow in value. If you have any questions let me know in the comments. And definitely check out the limited edition reproductions I have available.
February in Yosemite brings with it the chance at a brilliant display of light and color. If El Cap's "Horsetail Falls" is flowing well and the sky is clear, the sun will be at just the right angle to transform the look of the waterfall into lava. This naturally occurring phenomenon lasts for about 10 days.
The event, called "Firefall," draws people by the thousands into a fairly small area, often causing irreversible damage to delicate areas. In 2017, for example, a riverbank collapsed due to the stress from visitors.
These problems are not unique to special events. We see this type of damage done in other areas, such as protected meadows, where people ignore signs and walk over fences. Visitors often damage vegetation, increase erosion, and leave behind trash and even human waste.
I've been shocked at how often I see human waste, poopy toilet tissue, and baby diapers left on the side of the trail. Besides the complete lack of etiquette and respect for other visitors, this is damaging to the environment and dangerous to wildlife. I think people, for the most part, know better. This behavior, I believe, comes from a sense of entitlement, ill-preparation, and sometimes ignorance. Often, people simply choose to believe that the rules don't apply to them. Much of the damage could be mitigated by people coming prepared, knowing the rules, and following posted signs.
Because of the damage and disrespect I see so frequently, I find myself feeling the tension between the belief that public lands are for all to enjoy, and the desire to protect these special places. The belief that beautiful spaces should be shared, and the knowledge that beautiful places are often fragile.
Before the internet you had to work hard to gain the knowledge to get to some of these hidden gems or infrequent occurrences. Now, all it takes is a beautiful photo and an instagram post and the next thing you know that special place or event requires law enforcement, permits, and regulations. What was once felt like an expansive communion with nature now feels like Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
There is a tragedy to it all. On the one hand you want everyone to be able to have that experience, but on the other hand, bringing everyone into that experience innately changes it. The best case scenario is that the change is limited to the bustle of a crowd drowning out your other sensations; but more often the change is irreversible damage to truly unique places. Because of this, I don't always include all the information about where or when a photo is taken.
Artists and photographers need to take some time to grapple with the role we play in the destruction of special spaces; both in the creation and sharing of our work. I can't tell you where you need to land on this matter, but I can tell you unequivocally that there is an ethic involved and coming to a nuanced and thoughtful understanding of your ethic is important.
In saying all of that, I did not plan on sharing the photos above because they are of a rare "Firefall" event in October of which many people where unaware. I went out with two of my photographer friends (Brittany Colt and Anna Smits) a couple nights in a row, and on the second night we got to experience the splendor that is Horsetail Falls turned gold.It was only the three of us, and a handful of other people. After the waterfall turned a cool grey we began to pack up our things. We all agreed that we would not share our photos until a later time. We would not give information about when the event was, "just let them think it was February." The sentiment, let's not go for the viral social media post, let's protect our land, let's protect the sacredness of this moment, let's live in the magic of now and not the chaotic rush of the digital realm.
And that's what we did... for a couple of days. But before we knew it someone else had posted a photo and it was picked up by news outlets, so it seemed pointless to wait.
There is a sadness to it.
That one moment,
under the trees,
the river flowing steadily.
Greys and blues
turning to gold,
as if the waterfall itself
was creating light.
It may never be again.
In Yosemite we have black bears; which do, by the way, come in several colors including brown. This guy is a grizzly. Grizzly bears are usually much larger, have shorter ears, and a hump on the shoulders.
Before European colonialists arrived and began killing grizzlies en mass, they were once found across much of western North America, and sometimes even into the plains ares. "Grizzly bears perhaps numbered 70,000 individuals when Europeans first arrived. In contrast to the Native Americans, who coexisted with grizzly bears for many thousands of years, European settlers slaughtered every bear they could find. In just 150 years, humans shot, trapped or poisoned 98% of the grizzly bears in the lower 48 states." (Grizzly Times) Today the range of grizzlies extends through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, Canada, and Alaska. Here in Yosemite there were once grizzlies, but the last known grizzly in Yosemite was shot in 1895 at Crescent Lake. Of course, grizzlies are popular residents in Yellowstone.
This particular painting is based on a photo I took of a grizzly at the San Diego Zoo. While I was photographing this bear one of the tour buses drove by, and I heard the guide say that the two grizzlies at the zoo were brothers from Yellowstone. Their mother had been teaching them bad habits as cubs (i.e. getting into human food) that would put them in danger, so they were placed with the zoo.
I've said this a lot, but it is worth repeating. Follow the rules for food storage and animal safety when you visit national parks. What seems like a magical moment to you often put the wildlife in danger. Bears that get used to getting human food (whether purposefully or not on the humans part) often become a danger to humans and have to be euthanized. What for you was a cool TikTok, for a bear might mean death, or at best captivity. Don't be selfish take care of our shared spaces and their inhabitants.
Check out this video about the history of bear management in the national parks: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/grizzlybear.htm
To my knowledge there is only one recorded instance of an animal killing a human inside of Yosemite National Park.
Can you guess what animal it is?
Nope, not a bear, keep guessing... not a mountain lion either... think more on the dainty, herbivore side... that's right, a mule dear. Most people would be shocked by this fact, but it is true. The deer around here are pretty "tame" in the sense that they aren't easily spooked by people, and go about their day while people are near. However, these animals are still wild animals, and for their sake and ours it is important to "keep them wild," by not feeding or getting too near them. It is important for wild animals to retain their wild instincts for survival.
Yosemite is a magical place and the "tame" deer make it feel even more like a Disney movie, but it is not. Please, please be respectful of the space and its residents. Follow the rules about food storage and not feeding wild animals. What seems like a magical moment for you can turn into a deadly situation for you or the animal. Don't be selfish, enjoy the animals from an appropriate distance, don't go traipsing through the meadows (they are protected), store your food properly, throw away your trash, and remember that approximately 4 million people visit this park yearly. If what you are wanting to do were multiplied by 4 million (or even several thousand), would it negatively impact the environment? If yes, then don't do it.
This weekend I had the opportunity to display my work during Artober at the Oakhurst Fall Festival in the Yosemite Sierra Artist booth. I wasn't sure about participating-- it was a little last minute and I was out of town when the opportunity arose. The week was already wildly busy, and I just wasn't sure how well it would work.
Luckily, I recently read SELL OUT: The Definitive Guide To Selling Your Art Online Without Losing Your Damn Mind by Rachel Wilkins. In one chapter she discusses taking opportunities and making the most of them. So I decided to stop worrying and just make it happen.
I am so glad I did. I met some truly lovely people and made some great connections and new friends. The weather was absolutely beautiful, there was a great turn out, and I even got to meet a duck in a stroller... in my book that is pretty fantastic. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is easy to make excuses, to worry about how things will go, and to just decide to skip something. It is certainly more work to put yourself out there and do things that you aren't quite sure will work out, but the reward can be really great in the end. I think when we shift our goals and mindset a bit to base them on the specific opportunity the outcome can be wonderful.
How about you, do you struggle with taking a leap like this? Do you struggle with trying new things, or feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks required for events? Maybe you have a great tip or trick that you can share. Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.
Sure you can run down to your local Target and buy cheap, mass-produced art, but why do that when you can have something unique for your very own? Is price a factor? Make sure to read number 1 and 5!
1: Don't think of buying art as a purchase. Think of buying art as an investment. Art inherently adds value to the spaces around us. A piece of art can literally bring us joy. Art is often what brings life into a space. Art is also an investment because it can also increase in value. As an artist becomes more well-known and their work becomes more desirable, the value of their past work increases. If price is a barrier for you consider purchasing from an up and coming artist.
2: Purchase originals if you can. Original art is one of a kind. It is unique, and when you buy it you get to enjoy it in ways other people can't. There is just something special about being with the original, and something really special about having it in your home or office.
3: If you can't purchase originals purchase high quality reproductions. When purchasing reproductions, make sure they are high quality, limited edition, and signed. Try to get the lowest number in the edition you can get. High quality reproductions can last a lifetime, and while they aren't as valuable as originals, they can still increase in value, and be valuable.
4: Consider commissioning a piece of art. A lot of artist will create a piece just for you. Make sure to clearly communicate what you are looking for, but know that an artist can not see what is in your mind's eye. For this reason make sure you love the artist's previous work and feel confident they will create something you will love. An artist should provide you with a contract that describes the artwork being commissioned, price, payment expectations, and timeline (at the very least).
5: Consider financing. Some artists, myself included, offer 0% interest financing. This is a fantastic way to begin growing your collection. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of the financing agreement and that everything is in writing. For detail on my financing plan click here.
When you purchase art you are supporting a small business owner, and contributing to our economy. Whether you purchase from me or another artist, I want to thank you. Thank you for supporting an artist.
In 2018 I went to a prestigious yearly western art exhibit. This show was exhilarating. There is something special about standing in front of an original piece of art. I was lost in colors and brushstrokes, interesting compositions and heartfelt narratives. As I walked through the exhibit of nearly 100 artists something else started to become very apparent. Almost all of the artists were men. Sure they were all incredibly talented, but there are incredibly talented women artists too. Where were they? Before I left, I got a catalogue of the show so that I could get the actual stats. They were bleak-- out of around 95 artists there were approximately 5 female artists. (I still have that catalogue as a reminder and motivation). I recently decided to take a look at the catalogue of artists for the 2021 exhibit and discovered that after 3 years the stats were almost identical.
Total Artists (2021): 95
Male Artists: 86 (91%)
Female Artists: 9 (9%)
In addition to the lack of representation of female artists, there was a lack of representation of women as subjects. When represented, women were statistically more likely to be young, with a child, or with a man when compared with male subjects. In fact. there were only 28 representations of females, 83 of males, and 77 of animals.
Don't get me wrong, I clearly love animals as a subject. But the stats on representation of women artists and women as a subject (and the way in which they are portrayed) in this nationally renowned exhibit should make us stop and consider what is going on here. It's really nothing new. It's an issue that female creatives have dealt with for a long long time, but why are we still accepting this as the norm? Maybe it's just so common that people don't see it. It is like being nose blind. But it is time to expect more.
Making measurable gains is going to require a conscious effort and nuanced approach. It's going to require organizations and shows which are by invitation only to be more aware and make conscious efforts to bring more women in. It is going to require us to be conscious and vocal viewers and connoisseurs. And, it is going to require grassroots efforts, like Cowgirl Art Rodear, to increase representation and support female artists.
With that being said, I am excited to introduce "Cowgirl Artists of America." The mission of Cowgirl Artists of America is to cultivate a community for and promote the work of cowgirl artists. It is in its infant stage right now, but I see so much potential for our community and I really hope you join me.
Cowgirl Artists of America will will evolve as an organization. Right now the focus will be on sharing art by cowgirl artists on Instagram and growing the community on facebook. I don't have all the branding down. I don't have all the businessy things set up to make everything look official and perfect, but I also know that few things compare to the powerful force of a determined group of women.
Please join me on instagram @cowgirlartistsofamerica
and on the facebook community group The facebook community group is meant to be a place to ask questions, learn, share calls for art, and support one another-- a real community. It is a private group so you will have to answer the membership questions.
Leave me a comment if you have any questions and please help me get the word out. And if you are part of an organization that is under-representing women please join us in this effort. We don't want to fight with you, we want you to join our team to create positive change.
(Note on stats from exhibit: Paintings with subjects in the distance were not counted as they were more of a scene scape and less of a focused subject. There were a couple of paintings that were obscured enough that it was not completely clear if the subjects was male or female. I made my best judgement. As there were only a couple of these it would not significantly alter the conclusions if I were wrong.)