Monday, February 23, 2015

Can it be Spring Yet?

I miss drawing flowers. 

Can't wait to curry out my horse's winter coat and come home covered in horse hair. 

Lilacs. I want lilacs. And tulips, and daffodils. 

Meanwhile, I've got a huge canvas of ranunculus flowers that's been lingering unfinished on my studio wall for almost a year. Perhaps this week I can get that started again, and feel a little warmer. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Storybook Portrait Project: Characters Wanted

Robin of Dogwood Forest, 10 x 8" mixed media on paper, based on a snapshot. Sold.

I began painting animal portraits at the end of 2008, after Robbinsdale --without so much as issuing a snow emergency-- towed my truck from its parking spot on the street, and charged me $200 that I really didn't have at the time. I had just moved from Florida, I didn't have a good job, but I did have the Internet. I told my online friends I would create custom art for them, small works at a small price, and at least half of the requests I got were for dogs and cats. One was a guinea pig. One was an actual pig. Then the inquiries about larger and more complex portraits began coming in. I've been doing this ever since.

Queen Ruby, approx. 13" x 11", mixed media on paper. In the reference photo, she was lounging on a beige carpeted kitty condo.  Sold.
Thing is, lots of artists do traditional animal portraits. And lots of them are very good. And meanwhile, my one-step-sideways brain has kept pulling me toward portraying these creatures as heroes of their own stories. The response to the handful I've done so far has been remarkable, and I want to greatly expand my portfolio of these storybook portraits. So I'm going back to where I started, to the Internet.

His Coat Reflects the Sky, 11 x 11" mixed media on paper. Available unframed, $350; framed, $500

I am seeking photos of dogs, cats, horses, birds, any creature you'd like to see as part of this alternate world of mine. All species will be considered, so if you have rabbits or lizards, I'm still interested. I will choose ten characters, and they'll become part of a calendar for 2016. They will also be available as prints and greeting cards.  

Purchase of the originals is optional. If you'd like to commission yours, the cost is $250 (I happily accept payments) for 8 x10" to 9 x 12" works on paper. Larger paintings can be done upon request. This is an introductory offer, and ends May 1st, 2015, when the price for commissions goes up to $400. 

Interested? Use my contact link here, or send me a message on Facebook. 

Patron Saint of Storytellers, 10 x 8" mixed media on paper.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Owls in Kindergarten

That's when I first remember drawing owls. I was five. My owl lived in a hollow in a big, dead tree, in the middle of a flat, open, kindergarten landscape. That drawing was the first time I stopped coloring the sky as a band of bright blue across the very top of the page. I was very proud of it, and I wish I still had it. 


37 years later, and I'm working on this piece. It's about 12" high, made of wood and metal and other salvaged items I picked up off the ground. What you see here is the point at which I've got the design figured out, and am about to start applying oil paint. The "house" part, which was a discarded surveyor's stake, will be shades of blue and green. The owl is a barred owl, and I'll paint it fairly realistically. 

When it's finished, I'll post more photos, and tell you why I've loved owls all my life.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Beyond "Yes" or "No" to Charity Auction Requests?

Today, I got yet another well-intentioned request to donate my art.

Once the initial flash of irritation passed, I had to acknowledge that this charity auction trend, and the damage it does to artists, is in large part our own fault.

Wait, what?
This pretty little landscape in oil on a wood panel, 9 x 12" sold in a silent auction for $35. Heartbreaking for me as the artist. It was the Last Straw for me and silent auctions; I never have or will put art in another one.
No, I mean it. We artists have helped create this monster. We've been complicit in this scenario in which, if you want original art, you stand a good chance of snagging it at 50% off retail just by waiting for the annual charity auction -- so why get it from the gallery, or directly from the artist? We've allowed the perceived worth of all our work to be driven downward by every piece that goes for 20% of its value on a "silent auction" table.

Most artists understand all this. Most of us (myself included) still donate to a cause or two each year, simply because we believe in and support it. Most of us complain to each other about the endless stream of donation requests. Then we say yes or no to the next one, and the next, and the next, and complain some more. We talk to each other about this problem all the time.

What if we started talking to the people who ask us?

Today, I did. My reply is below. It's a drop in a vast ocean, it will likely go unheeded, but it sure did make me feel better. Anyone else who thinks it will make them feel better is welcome to adapt it for their own use.


Hello, [Donation Requester].

Thank you for contacting me. Like most artists, I do work with a few charitable causes each year, and have done so for a very long time. And, like a great many artists who have donated for years, I am having more and more trouble continuing to do this under the current operating model.

To be clear, I am not necessarily saying no. I am inviting the leadership at [Charitable Organization] to consider having an honest discussion with the arts community about the trend of charity art auctions, why they are almost always a bad business move for the artists involved, and what can be done so that artists can continue supporting causes we care about without undercutting our own livelihood. These auctions, especially because there are now so many of them, are actively harming artists. Very, very few of the organizations who ask us to donate understand this. I believe that if they did, the fundraising model would change in many ways.

If you'd care to learn more, I can put your organization in touch with resources such as [Local Arts Group], to help come up with better ideas for fundraising that, if it doesn't help the artists, at least doesn't hurt us.

Thank you so much for your consideration,

Tracie Thompson

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It Must be SO NICE to Make Art All the Time!

That's what I often hear from people when I tell them what I do for a living. Surely we artists spend most of our time in creative bliss in our studios.

In the words of the internet, LOL NO.

Want to know what it's really like? Here's my current white board, which I stopped writing on when I ran out of room.

I wrote this half an hour ago and have already added five more items.
This is a mere fraction of what's on my plate as an independent small business owner. Just for starters, the stuff about show proposals, doing my taxes, getting more greeting cards printed, buying frames for things to sell at Crawl, creating a new mailing list, and a couple dozen other items, aren't on here.
A professional artist who manages to spend even 50% of her working time in her studio is an exception and the rest of us want to know how she does it. Generally it involves hiring out a whole lot of items, which I intend to do just as soon as possible.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Second World Under the Surface

I'm often asked where my ideas come from, particularly when I do things like this latest piece, where I used a photo of a very real subject and took it one step sideways. How do I think of these things? What does the collar and key mean?

The truth is, I usually don't know. I know the feeling behind the art, but very little beyond that. There's always a story going on in my work, yet it's rare that I can say what it is. 

This is what it's like to live with the brain that I have: it seems that the part that invents my dreams at night - the part that had me driving my car across a lake, the part that sent me riding on a horse that shrunk with every step, the part that let me tape a small diamond to the back of my shirt and then fly like a bird until the tape loosened and the diamond was lost - doesn't ever quite shut up when I'm awake. I don't know if other people are like this. I haven't asked. But I will look at something here in The Real World, and my brain will instantly show me the Other World, an altered version where strange and beautiful things are happening. One step sideways.

I don't ask for that to happen, it just does. I "see things" when I'm driving, when I'm looking at photos on Facebook, when I'm walking around town, basically all the time. It has been like this all my life. I almost never know what's happening in those ongoing stories in my head, but there is a sense that it's all part of the same alternate universe, one that lurks just under the surface of our own. Scrape at the ground a while and maybe magic wells up from underneath.

The moments when I'm able to capture fragments of that world are when I'm happiest as an artist. But what it all means? That answer is, and should be, different for everyone. I know, on an emotional level, what most of them mean to me. I'm more interested in learning what they mean to someone else. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Class! Making Art out of Snapshots

Pretty much everyone who learns to draw, here in our modern world, starts out by drawing from photos. And pretty much everyone gives up because, let's face it, copying photos gets really darn boring after a while.

But what if you could transform your snapshots, instead of just copying them?

This was a boring, blurry snapshot. Now it's a whimsical little painting in watercolor, pen, and Crayolas.

That's what you'll do in this fun mixed media class for beginners and up. Get out your overstuffed image libraries and start a new adventure.

I'll show you how to:

Choose a picture to work from
Pick out the Good Parts of the shot and ignore the rest
Use a grid to get accurate proportions no matter what size your art is
Have fun with colorful media like watercolors, pencils, acrylics, and even Crayola crayons!

Class is five Tuesday evenings, Feb. 10 to March 10, 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Dancing Goat Coffeehouse, 699 7th Street E, St. Paul -- right by Metro State University.

Tuition $75; limited to six students. Email me here for a materials list, or bring your own existing art materials if you prefer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Eternal Art Student

That's me. Yesterday I was in Derek Davis' class, not teaching but learning.

Sketch of Maisie, pastel pencil and watercolor, 6 x 10"

This was what I did to warm up before class began. It's the only finished thing I have to show for my 3 hours; the rest of the time I was observing, sketching, and working out how to begin the little landscape I now have in progress.

After a year of mostly working on paper, it's both good and scary to pick up my oils again in earnest. I will always be a student; everyone who's committed to anything, in any field, is by default a student for life. Doesn't matter if it's art, medicine, golf, or dog training. 

The dog, by the way, is named Maisie. She belongs to Derek Davis, and before class she was curled up in this cute little pink chair they have at the Old Town Artists studio. I just had to sketch her, and I'm pleased with the results. I didn't get a lot of detail, but I think Maisie's youth and sweetness is there, and that's what I wanted most.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Adventures in Teaching Art

I'm looking for a new place to teach on a regular basis. 

Meanwhile, I've started working with individual students again. These are things I did as demonstrations last night for one of them, a vibrant and creative woman whose confidence got eroded away by the same currents that get to us all sometimes. I broke out the watercolors and crayons, because it's been my experience that the road out of I'm Too Scared goes right through the playground.

The student in question has been caught in a quandary: She's an abstractionist at heart. She makes these bold, joyful, colorful compositions that look accomplished enough that if I saw them on a gallery wall, I wouldn't question it. 

But she wants to learn to draw what she sees. So, how to learn the intimidating drawing part without losing the joy of the thing she truly loves? I decided the answer was: Start playing with the abstract forms and patterns in the world around us. I have a collection of photos of this kind of thing, so I printed up a few and that's what we did. The bird above was a demo about applying watercolor in an imprecise, fun way (relating to the way she already uses color, but watercolor is a new medium for her). Below, I got the crayons out and did a much more abstract demo from the shapes and colors of a branch of fall leaves. This is that crayon-and-watercolor thing you did in grade school, and yes, that's regular old Crayolas I was using.

For an artist who'd felt as if there was a great wall between "abstract" and "real", this was a revelation and freed her up to find subject matter in the real world, without having to make it realistic.

For me, it was a chance to play again and do things I'd never otherwise have done. I like my abstracted leaves well enough to want to make more, and there's no way it would have ever happened if I hadn't needed to help someone else learn to play again. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Maybe it's a Crow Kind of Monday

I'm in Florida and utterly exhausted after a couple weeks working at Mount Dora Olive Oil Company (don't get me wrong; it's a lot of fun! It's just been a lot, a LOT, of work). 

So I'm also working on a dog portrait, which is great, but I need to do something just for myself, and I think maybe this photo will be the start of that.