How to build a great art collection on the cheap…

Garage or estate sales:

I purchased this lovely abstract painting at a garage sale 20 years ago; it was my first original art purchase. It was lying face down on the floor, and the seller was thrilled when I offered $100. She would have taken far less. I still have no idea who the artist was…from the look of the painting I would guess it’s a study by a student artist – but that never really mattered. It’s pretty and well composed, it’s original, and I still like looking at it.

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My grandfather, after he retired, spent every weekend hitting the yard sales and picking up old frames for as little as $2 so he could refurbish them and use them for collages. This striking numbered lithograph by Israeli artist Tumarkin was hiding in an ancient dusty frame he brought home. It now hangs in my kitchen.

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Barter:

I have traded art for spa services, chiropractic appointments, and even a week-long vacation home rental. Do you provide a service or sell something? Ask an artist about barter! (Especially if you’re an Orthodontist…my kids need braces).

Unexpected Places:

If you keep your eyes open, you can find good art in totally unexpected places. The basements of elderly relatives, for example, can be a goldmine if you can look past dust and old framing.DSC_0020

Last month I found this hand-printed serigraph dated 1973 lying by the side of the road. The frame was ancient and cobwebby, and so brittle I had to break through it with a sledgehammer … but the print inside, signed by Canadian artist Margaret Peter, was pristine. I can’t wait to treat it to a new mat and a crisp white frame.

So the next time you’re complaining about your empty walls, remember two things: 1. If you must have new art, see if you can barter with a working artist. Some artists won’t do it, but some will. What have you got to lose?  2. If you’re not particular about where your art comes from, there is a lot of good art out there that will get tossed in the trash if a hero like you doesn’t rescue it and give it a good home. So use your magic eagle eyes today and go find some art to save from languishing in your great-great aunt’s mouldy basement.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. (Roald Dahl)

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Why so many people think they can’t do art…

One thing I find bizarre about telling people I’m an artist is that they sometimes get all wistful and say, “Oh…I could never do that”.

Really?

My brother is a surgeon with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Pathobiology. He takes out cancers and saves lives several times a day. And yet it’s ME to whom they say oooohhh…I could never do that.

What people say to my brother is more along the lines of, “Sigh…I should have gone into medicine.”

So…just to recap: intelligent, educated, cultured, hardworking people think they can’t be artists, even though it’s one of the last remaining skills you can learn well without higher education or a lot of money.

And lazy dumbasses think they could have been surgeons if they had only decided to go to medical school.

Why do so many people think they can’t do art? You made art when you were a kid, and you liked it – you know you did. So what happened to you? Don’t say a teacher gave you a bad grade on an art project because that’s not an excuse. My brother failed scissors in preschool. You think he gave up and said ‘I’ll never cut again’? The problem is we live in a world where we tell our kids they can be anything they want to be, so everyone believes they could have been a doctor.

In med school if you get a wrong diagnosis they make you try again until you get it right. In art school if you produce a bad piece of work they tell you to stick to your day job.

But not every working artist started out with innate abilities, and art is something that we already know can be learned. Yes, talent is innate. And shining art stars have talent, but so do shining medical stars. And just as in medicine, where an inherent ability and sensitivity can’t be taught but good technique can be learned, art technique and theory can also be learned.

And by the way, just like in every other field, plenty of successful working artists have no talent.

Art is something everyone is entitled to do. It’s fun and relaxing, and if you’re not good at it, you can take any number of classes offered at affordable rates within minutes of wherever you live. Don’t ever say you can’t do art because you’re not gifted or creative. You don’t have to be either- just go take a class and the instructor will tell you what to do. You’ll experience the rush of creating something from scratch with your own two hands and I promise you’ll feel like a kid again.

To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.

(Kurt Vonnegut)

My Dog Could Paint That: What Makes Abstract Art "Art"

I meet people surprisingly often who will look at an abstract painting and say “that’s not art”, or “my kid could do that”. Unbelievably, there are still curmudgeons out there who furiously denounce non-representational art, whether they’re at a local art fair or at the MOMA.

Annoying as those comments are to abstract artists, it does put the onus on us to try to open up some minds about what, in fact, does make abstract art “art”, and not simply a decorative craft along the lines of a hand made cushion or a hand-beaded purse (or a finger-painting by a 4 year old).  I have participated in this debate a hundred times and one of the big themes of the discussion is always artist intent.
I have always known why I do what I do. I know why I create the type of art I create, what I am trying to portray, and what it means to me. But I have also up until now had sort of a que sera attitude; if people appreciate my work, then great. If they don’t, that’s fine too.  People have their own reasons for choosing one work of art over another, and to try to sway them is pointless and unfair. I hate salespeople and I never want to be one.
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So while I have always known what the intent of my work is, it is something I have been reluctant to share. I just find that artist descriptions can often cross the line into the ridiculous, so I keep mine to myself. But the more time I spend in the art world the more I realize how important it is for artists to explain their practice, process and/or intent in clear, concise terms.  The clearer I am about my objectives, the more people can appreciate my work as fine art, not only as a decorative object. Don’t get me wrong, if you like my work because the colours match your throw pillows, then great! Bby all means buy my paintings and hang them above your sofa. But if an understanding of the purpose, relevance and influences of the piece will offer you a deeper enjoyment of the work for years to come and maybe even help the work rise in value, then I probably have an obligation to provide you with that information.

Why is intent important? Why is it a differentiating factor between art and decorative craft? Because the point of craft is to create something handmade, original and well… decorative. The point of art is richer and more layered. Good art does not function in and of itself, but as a culmination of history, study, rules, rule-breaking, societal and cultural changes and so many more factors that are impossible to count. Abstract art can be thought provoking- it can be culturally or historically relevant – it can be disturbing, it can be beautiful and decorative, or all of the above.
So what about those people who wander around art fairs and mumble under their breaths that a monkey could paint that? Interestingly, a study that was published a few years ago in  Psychological Science Journal found that people can, in fact, distinguish professional abstract expressionist paintings from similar paintings by children, chimps, monkeys and elephants. They can’t always explain how they know the difference, but they do. What’s the distinction? Intent. Is it possible for an elephant to create a valid abstract expressionist work of art? Possibly…as a fluke. Can he create a consistent series? Portray his chosen and thoughtful objective? Not so much.
Art doesn’t have to be “about” something obvious in order for it to be good or valid. It can convey a mood or a feeling, or simply be about the artist’s interaction with the materials used to create the piece. Abstraction is the artist’s way of representing what is within instead of reproducing something from the outside.  As Georgia O’Keefe said in reference to her abstract works: “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint.” True that.
So in the interest of practising what I’m preaching, I have updated my website to include a comprehensive artist statement. Link to my website here for more info.

Thanks for reading!
Abstract art should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed –
after a while you may like it or you may not.

Buy What You Love!!

I recently took a painting to a client’s house. He loved it and had decided to buy it but wanted to make sure his daughter liked it. I left it with him for three days so he would have a chance to get her opinion (she loved it). After the third day he left me a message saying he had decided not to buy the painting after all. He had invited a bunch of guys over for poker night and they had all argued about whether or not the work was well suited to his living room.  Most liked it, but one friend felt strongly that the space needed something less abstract with a softer colour palette to go with the sofa. The friend was so persuasive that he left my client doubting his own opinion, and in the end he couldn’t bring himself to buy art that one of his friends didn’t approve of. My client took his friend’s advice and hired a decorator, and he is now the bored owner of a dull landscape that matches his wall so tastefully that it’s nearly invisible. The poor guy had found something that stirred his senses, and he let his passion be stamped out by someone else’s colour preferences.

There is so much advice out there about how to buy art, but I always tell my clients that what it boils down to is pure and simple: just buy what you love.  You don’t need a decorator or art dealer to tell you what moves you. Life is too short to not surround yourself with things that make you happy, and those moments in life when we find something special that we connect with are so rare, we need to grab them when they arise. When you see a work of art that you love and can afford, don’t think too hard about it- just make it yours. Don’t worry about where you’ll display it- if you love it, you’ll find a place.

I found “Nipple Tassles” by glass artist Claire Anderson at an art fair.
“Tassles” in my powder room.

Last year my husband and I attended a party at the home of a couple we met, and hanging their family room was a large painting by an artist whose work I immediately recognized. As I excitedly chattered on about the artist’s last show and her impressive new works, I realized both sets of eyes had glazed over and my friends were politely not listening. One of them finally admitted that their decorator had chosen the painting without their involvement, and not only did they know nothing about the artist or the piece itself, neither of them even liked it.

Unfortunately this happens all the time.  People are busy. It can be helpful to have a decorator narrow down some choices based on your preferences: there is a wide range of art out there and it can be a daunting process to find the right piece. But to entirely make the selection without the homeowner’s input? How sad that so many people are living with art that has incredible stories that they don’t learn! How does that process even go? Hmm…going to spend thousands of dollars now on something that will dominate my primary living space. Let’s see: I could choose something I find soothing, moving, beautiful –something remarkable that makes me think – definitely something I want to keep looking at day after day. Nah. I’ll just hire a stranger to pick something they like.   After all they picked the sofa so they should choose what they want to hang above it.

People buy art for different reasons: for investment, for enjoyment, for decoration.  But art is and has always been a societal signifier of status, wealth and cultural intelligence, and too often people get caught up in what others think and forget about what’s important. In displaying art in your home, you are expressing your liberty, your passion and your individuality without saying a word.  The art you buy must resonate with you… whether its significance is aesthetic, cultural, intellectual or sentimental in nature. Never let anyone sell you art that you don’t like because of some perceived value that you don’t see. Displaying art that has no meaning to you is like lying on your resume. It’s a false description of who you are – both to the people who visit your home and to yourself.

When we connect with a work of art, we make a connection to the artist, to the world and to ourselves, and to buy art that enhances our lives and moves our spirits is to live life on a higher plane. Happy collecting.

“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”
(Pablo Picasso)

Happiness is….A Decomposing Shark

Art as Investment…

When I first started showing my work professionally, my target market was young professionals. Most of my clients had a miniscule budget for buying art, but they saw something they loved in my work. My paintings were inexpensive – I was just starting out and trying to gain purchase in a highly competitive and intense market. For many of my early clients, my work was their first real art purchase. I loved dealing with people who were excited about this new art-buying stage of their lives, as I was excited about this new, art-making stage of mine. In the years since then, I have counseled many of those clients on further art purchases, and some have since grown into attentive and serious collectors.
In the first few years of my painting career, I knew that many of my customers had to stretch financially to buy my paintings, and as a result, they treated them with great reverence and a bit of awe. They were proud of their purchases and proud of themselves for making art a priority. It made them feel grown-up.  So the first time I heard from a potential customer that my work was too cheap, I was more than a little surprised!
It was one of my first studio shows, where I invited friends and family to my home to view my new collection. I had only been showing my work for a year, and had only had feedback from young, inexperienced buyers. At this show, I had invited relatives, friends of my parents, and business associates of my husband; all of whom had a more sophisticated handle on the art market than my usual customers, and many of whom were serious collectors. The first person who came in said it was nice work, and that in a few years he would consider buying something. He liked a small piece that I was selling for $300, and said to let him know when it was $3,000 and he would come back and look at it then.
That size painting now retails for more than triple what it did then, but my work is also far more advanced stylistically. While it is certainly more expensive, it is also more balanced, richer and far more developed than it was when I was just starting out. However if I called that guy today and showed him the exact same early work from 2006 and slapped a $3,000 price tag on it, he would probably buy it.  I have met many people like him in the years since.
Most collectors are passionate about the aesthetic appeal of the art they purchase. But sadly, there are also many collectors out there who have little appreciation for the art itself. The only measure they know of whether the art is “good” or not is the market value, and unfortunately they are missing the point: the best judge of the value of art is the human heart.  We don’t need art critics, dealers and price tags to tell us what we love. We just need to look at art, learn about art, and remember that the real value of owning something beautiful is the joy it brings, not the resale value.
Am I opposed to buying art for investment? Absolutely not! Some of the world’s most spectacular museum collections are only available for us to enjoy because wealthy collectors have purchased and donated them. Investment collectors keep money flowing into the art world; keeping auction houses, galleries and artists alive to keep doing what they do. But I feel conflicted when I think that one day, someone could buy one of my paintings for investment purposes and feel nothing when they look at it.
In 1991, celebrated British artist Damien Hirst created a huge stuffed shark preserved in formaldehyde and mounted in a glass case. In 2004, an American collector bought it for an undisclosed amount, rumored to be somewhere between 8 and 12 million – a staggering sum for a living artist’s work.  It was an affecting and important work, but by the time the deal was made, the original shark had long disintegrated into a decaying ruin. Hirst had already stretched its skin over a plexiglass model of a shark. This plexi version showed in galleries for several years before Hirst again replaced it with a fresh shark.  Much has been written about this story, but my interest in it today is the question of how far collectors and artists will go to own or produce something that the market declares important. Where is the intrinsic value in this?
My rule of thumb when buying art is to ask myself how much the piece is worth to me in terms of how much I will enjoy looking at it. We assume the purchaser of the shark was concerned only with investment value, but maybe he just loved the way a huge dead decomposing animal looked next to his TV? I’d like to think it was the latter, and I hope he made back his 8 or 12 million dollars a hundred times over in sheer enjoyment every time he looked at his acquisition.
Thanks for reading!
There are no rules about investment. Sharks can be good.
Artists dung can be good. Oil on canvas can be good.
(Charles Saatchi)

Demystifying the Art Buying Process for New and Would-Be Collectors

Three steps to beginning a great art collection

So you want to start an art collection but a): think you can’t afford it and b): don’t know where to begin. My advice to you is to take the money factor out of the equation for now. You will come back to it later when it is time to narrow in on possible purchases. In the meantime, just gather information and figure out what styles and media you love.

 Art is not like clothing. If you love an expensive top but you can’t afford it, you gain nothing from buying it in a smaller size. But if you find an artist you love whose large works are too expensive, you can often start with a smaller piece or a drawing that fits within your budget.
Step one:
Look at art and become familiar with what you like.
Online browsing is the easiest way to hone in on your preferences so you can then go out and see it in person. Art always looks different in person, so once you figure out what you like, go see some of it up close.
Public Galleries
Follow a tour, learn some art history and have a cappuccino.  Enjoy some art with no pressure to buy.
Commercial Galleries
The old stereotype of the snooty, stuck up art dealer is no longer entirely relevant. Many galleries now make a point of being welcoming and helpful, and will patiently encourage browsing. If you happen upon gallery staff who are rude or snooty, don’t bother with that gallery. There are plenty of commercial galleries that have friendly staff and an array of beautiful art.Co-op or
Artist Run Galleries
These are galleries run by a group of artists who pay membership fees and rent a gallery space to showcase their work. The shows are curated by the artists themselves and there is often an artist on hand to answer questions.
Art Fairs

Art fairs are the best way to view plenty of art all in one place, at your own pace, in a casual environment where no one is pressuring you to buy. Fairs also offer the exciting opportunity to talk to the artists directly and learn about their processes and motivations for creating the art you love. If you do end up buying one of their works some day, you will cherish that connection you made with the person who created it. Most big cities have art fairs spaced out throughout the year, so there is always something to look forward to.

Studio Visits:

Artists may do business through a gallery or directly from their studio, or both. Don’t be afraid to email an artist and ask.

Step two:  

Make a purchase plan:
A couple I know buys a piece of art every year for their anniversary. Each year they put aside whatever they can afford to spend on art, and during the course of the year, they browse the art shows and galleries, making connections and discovering what they like. By the time their anniversary rolls around, they usually have a good idea of what they want and how to buy it.
 
Step three:
Buying and hanging your beautiful art:
Choosing art is simple: Just buy what you love. If you enjoy looking at it and it makes you smile, make it yours.
Many artists and galleries offer hanging, delivery and other services which are often included in the price of a painting. Some will come to your home and help you decide where to hang a painting or place a sculpture. Others will allow you to take a work of art home and see it in your space before you decide to buy it.
A few things to remember:
Bigger is not always better: A small work can have a very big impact – both on your space and on your heart.  (The most recent piece of art I bought is 4” x 6”. It is a tiny, sweet mixed media work by Toronto artist Kelly Grace and I gave it as a gift to someone I love).
These 3 tiny paintings by Joya Paul make a huge impact in my front hall

Don’t compare apples to oranges. Meaning don’t look at a piece of original art and say “yeah but I can get a poster 3 times the size at Ikea for half the price”. You can’t compare something hand made and authentic with something mass-produced: This isn’t even apples to oranges, it’s more like fresh farmers market apples to decorative plastic oranges.

If you are still unsure where to start, talk to someone who can offer you guidance.  If you don’t know who do ask, email me.  I love to talk about art (clearly), and can recommend websites, artists and galleries to help set you on the track that works for you. Trust me, once you get started, there will be no stopping you!

“Every time I make something I think about the people who are going to see it
and every time I see something, I think about the person who made it…
Nothing is important… so everything is important.” 
(Keith Haring)   

The Hows and Whys of Encaustic Painting

Why My Paintings are so HOT!

People often ask me how I heard about encaustic painting and why I do it.  They wonder why an artist would bother with a medium that is so messy, involved, difficult and expensive (not to mention the potential for serious burns and inhalation injury), when you can now create similar effects with acrylic mediums that are far cheaper and easier to use.
Encaustic is different from other media not only because of the look of the final product, but because of the paint itself: both in its historical significance and its connection to the earth. I work in encaustic because there is something about warm beeswax in the studio that makes me feel alive and connected to something ancient and authentic, in a way that manufactured acrylic paints cannot.
Encaustic painting is an ancient art form that was developed over 3000 years ago when Greek and Egyptian shipbuilders used hot wax to fill the cracks in their ships. Soon pigment was added and this led to painting designs on the surface of the waxed hulls. The process was eventually refined for the art of painting on panels. The word encaustic is Greek – meaning “to burn in”.

One reason for the popularity of the encaustic medium was the durability of its finish once it was dry. Beeswax is impervious to moisture and acts as a sealant to keep colours bright. Under the right conditions, an encaustic painting can last indefinitely. Probably the best-known encaustic works are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st through 3rd centuries. Amazingly, these portraits are still intact today.

Encaustic fell into disuse with the decline of the Roman Empire, when cheaper and easier methods of painting were developed. The process was so time consuming and painstaking and the cost of producing it so high, that Tempera painting eventually took over and encaustic became a lost art.

Encaustic had a few stops and starts in the 18th and 19thcenturies, but began to truly come back to life in the 20th century with the availability of portable electric heating devices to melt the wax. It began its resurrection in the 1950s with a few artists, including Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera, and continued to grow with the work of Tony Scherman and others in the 70s.  From then on it rose steadily.

Johns, Rivera and Scherman offer a good cross section of how encaustic can be used in any style of contemporary art, and I have been lucky enough to see works by all of them in person. One constant with encaustic work is that photos simply cannot capture their richness and intensity.  The luminosity, immediacy and depth of an encaustic painting can only be experienced in person.

It was seeing a contemporary encaustic show in Toronto that set me on my current path.  I had been painting with acrylics and epoxy resins (a highly toxic and chemically produced cocktail). After attending the encaustic show, I did some research on the method and tried it. As soon as I began, I was hooked.

I now paint almost exclusively with encaustic, often incorporating papers, inks, found objects, charcoal and other media. Oil paints and oil sticks are an important part of my practice and I use them liberally. One of the ancient practices I was most drawn to was the ability to suspend papers and objects in beeswax. They can be incorporated into the paint, or made to look like they are floating; giving the work an ethereal quality.

I make my own encaustic paints, staying close to an ancient recipe of beeswax, pigments and damar resin. I begin with a visit to an Ontario honey farm to purchase my beeswax, which I then melt down with the resin and pigments and mold into individual pucks of paint. The paints become solid at room temperature and are melted as needed on a hot palette in order to be brushed onto my panels. Each layer of encaustic paint must then be re-melted into the layer beneath it in order to fuse the painting together. I use a heat gun or iron for this process.  My studio is a crazy mess of brushes, scrapers, mark makers, collections of papers (both handmade and vintage), found objects, fabrics and natural matter.

Each of my paintings is a culmination of diverse elements coming together, and every day is an adventure in painting since I never know what I will discover next. As Jasper Johns said: “Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that”. I couldn’t agree more.

Painting with encaustic is about rich scents, warm, soft textures and smooth, glossy surfaces.  It smells like honey and the smell never dissipates, even after the painting has been finished for years.  I love working with it because of its tactile qualities. Other types of paints come alive when the painting is complete, but encaustic speaks to me because beeswax has a life of its own before the artist even begins working with it.   As I work, I give thanks to the bees for the gift they have given me, and I am ever grateful for being able to do what I love and put something new and beautiful into the world.

“I tend to like things that already exist.”  

(Jasper Johns)