Monday, June 3, 2013

"Schools Kill Creativity" Ken Robinson (TED Talks)

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

(Direct Link - Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

“The Art of the Profession” workshop - Ani Art Acadamy Waichulis

On Friday, May 25th Anthony Waichulis founder of Ani Art Academy a fine art/painting atelier located in Bear Creek Township, PA, (with international locations in Anguilla, Dominicana and growing) offered a one day workshop titled “The Art of the Profession”.  After about a decade of correspondence with Anthony, participating with him in multiple group Trompe L’Oeil exhibitions, following his and many of his students works and careers, and finally relocating from California to Pennsylvania myself – I finally had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Ani Academy Waichulis.  Not only was I able to visit but I also was able to attend the first in their 2013 summer workshop series.

Here's the workshop description as stated on the Ani Academy Website:
The Art of the Profession is a one day clinic offered by artist Anthony Waichulis to explore basic strategies for artist brand building, promotions, and representation 
Workshop Schedule: The Art of the Profession 
  • Goals, skill sets, and resources
  • Deconstruct and analyze previous efforts
  • Establish a strategy for success
  • Establish a work schedule and commit 
Analysis of resources
  • Education
  • Publication
  • Websites
  • Email
  • Grants
  • Competitions
  • Associations 
  • Identifying a viable/compatible representing entity
  • Protocols for approaching a representing entity
  • Presentation
  • Pricing strategies
  • Building an exhibition
On top of the fact that I really wanted to visit the school, the premise for the workshop seemed to fit my immediate needs as a career artist. Artists generally want to spend the majority of their allotted "artist time" making art and it's very easy (and sometimes convenient) to forget that you must maintain and constantly progress as a business, which I am guilty of sometimes neglecting. But recently I've been searching for ideas, theories and strategies to further advance my career and a workshop taught by Anthony Waichulis, who not only has knowledge from his own career but also that of his many students, some of which have gone on to be successful artists and teachers, so this workshop seemed to be an excellent opportunity to learn from their collective experiences.

First off, I have to say that the location is gorgeous. The building is nestled within the lush bright green leaves of the close surrounding trees, on a hillside not far from the road but just far enough to give the illusion of being a rural studio hideaway. I'm still amazed by my first spring in PA, having been born and raised in Southern CA where lawns are watered and green year round and because the evergreens out-number the deciduous trees, there's little difference between seasons. Spring is gorgeous in PA and Ani Academy Waichulis is in a particularly beautiful wooded spot.

Upon arrival I was greeted at the door and led into the school where I felt like I was finally meeting some of my long time pen-pals. I've been facebook friends with some of the attendees for years, I've even been in group shows with a few, so it was nice to meet them in person. Everyone was friendly, talkative, eating the catered breakfast (graciously furnished by Ani), and fueling up on coffee.

Anthony started off the lecture by disarming everyone with a few art-market facts, stats and charts. "It's a $50,000,000,000 industry!" he said repeatedly. Yep, that's a lot of 0's. 50 billion dollars are reported to have been spent on fine art in 2008 - one of the hardest hit years in the recent recession. This is an inspiring number if you're trying to build and/or maintain a career as a fine artist. Although the "$50 billion" was a recurring theme throughout the day, he went on to tell some personal stories about his beginnings as an artist and some of the opposition and pessimism that he met along the way...which he obviously overcame. The stories hit home. We all face people who would have us believe that being an artist is not a "real job" and he set off to dispel this myth that has somehow rooted itself into social consciousness. He then pointed out that there are many who have and continue to be successful artists and that success is a byproduct of "defining clear goals", "charting your course carefully", and "dedicating yourself completely" - a solid outlook for any business. He also led every artist to ask themselves "What do I want to do? What do I want to say?" and to "analyze your previous efforts" and "always learn". Expression through mastery of materials and technique seems to be the goal of Ani Academy and it was nice to see Anthony pushing everyone to also find there own style and voice.

Before lunch he touched on all of the bullet points in the 'Introduction and Analysis of Resources' sections, with emphasis on the importance of 'web presence', 'brand image' and creating a purposeful and professional presentation. 

Note:  Having had a part in the product development to establish a "brand image" for some very well known artists, I can attest to the fact that these artists work very hard and carefully to craft their business, look and PR.  And to prove the "$50 billion", one of the artists that I worked with had a warehouse stocked with $16 million in picture frames waiting to be filled - and this is just one of many examples from many artists. Working with them was a great learning experience and it is inspiring to know that this kind of success is currently possible. 

Lunch was catered, and I had the chance to get to know few more of the artists. Also, there were paintings displayed by some of the Ani students, alumni and Anthony...all of the work was fantastic and a pleasure to see in person!!!      

The second part of the day (the 'representation' segment) was presented with a quicker pace, packed full of info, and well...pretty funny. Anthony's humor and quippy comments kept everyone engaged and it felt more like a focused social gathering rather than a dry lecture. We were told what to watch out for, what to expect, and how to best conduct yourself and business when dealing with a gallery. In this segment, a few myths were shattered and seemingly illusive answers to hard to ask questions were answered with authority. For me, this was the most enlightening part of the day. "...hmmm...really? it!...thanks Anthony!!!" The last hour or so was reserved for Q&A and personal art/business problems were address.

It was a very informative workshop, a great group people, good food, and overall...a good time! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Best Canvas Pliers!

John Annesley Canvas Pliers
I've mentioned in a previous post that I worked in the picture framing industry for about 16 years.  During that time I've stretched every type of canvas and fabric that you could imagine.  In fact, for one employer I managed the stretching department that had crews of people stretching hundreds of canvas edition prints I've used just about every type of stretching device that you can think of, from pneumatic machines to cheap art supply store pliers.  For high volume work, you really can't beat the big machinery, but for hand stretching these are the best tools on the market...

John Annesley Canvas Pliers.  They offer three models:  
I personally use the "Three Inch Side-Tack Pliers" because I prefer the traditional side stapled approach where my paintings are stretched on standard bars and are finished with the picture frame, rather than the gallery wrap approach where the painting is on taller stretcher bars, stapled on the back and hung without framing.  I've used all three versions and they all work great for their intended uses.  The main difference between these and other canvas pliers is that stronger gripping and leverage can be achieved with considerably less effort which makes the process faster, more controlled and with less hand fatigue.  Their website says it best...

"All three of our canvas plier designs now fit in your hand even better. Our new comfortable handle grips are ergonomically-designed with a soft rubber top where the force of your hand engages. Plus a slightly longer handle gives you more leverage and more room to comfortably position your hand. The fulcrum is what really gives you the power, the lever action helps you really pull tight. You can maintain even tension with much more ease. When you release pressure, our pliers still spring open the machine-textured jaws. The jaws are also angled toward the front edge, leaving a gap at the back of the jaws for excess fabric. Plus some people have requested a locking mechanism, now all three models have one available."

I guarantee that you'll love these canvas pliers, and that they are guaranteed to last your whole lifetime." - John Annesley

Agreed!  They are a must for anyone who stretches their own canvas.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hackman Frames Review

"Without Delay" by Slade Wheeler.  Framed with a Hackman Frame
Beautiful handcrafted closed corner frames. Having spent 16 years in the picture framing industry, I am very particular about my frames. In fact, I'm so particular that after months of searching, trail-and-error, and never being completely satisfied, I finally decided to design my own "signature" framing moulding to better display my trompe l'oeil paintings. Hackman Frames custom mills the moulding to specified dimensions, applies exquisite hand-finishes and ships them in packaging that is so well protected that I usually reuse it when shipping the framed piece to the gallery. They offer a nice selection of moulding/framing options in various metal leaf and traditional multi-layered painted finishes and they're more than happy to "tweak" the colors or undertones to meet the needs of the artwork. Their email and phone communication is excellent and they're not shy about calling or emailing if they have any questions so that the frame is made right the first time and on time, which I always end up appreciating - especially when working with a strict deadline.

As far as prices, you'll always pay more for custom finished closed corner frames, but in a gallery setting the frame becomes an important part of the look and feel of the piece. It can be a unifying link between multiple works (i.e. brand image), and has the potential to accentuate and lead the eye into the piece or detract from it. We've all seen beautiful works in horrible or even mediocre frames (yuk!) and this can be a huge distraction, so I'd always suggest using the most complimentary frame for the matter the cost. Art collectors have discerning eyes and they'll appreciate the finished look of high quality frames. Hackman Frames are very reasonably priced for custom closed corner frames, in fact I doubt that you'd find the same quality for a lower price...I searched an was unsuccessful. They also have an accurate price calculator on their website which bypass's the steps and wait for a quote...nice touch.

The Bottom Line: Every frame that I've ordered has been of the highest quality, the finishes are beautiful, the customer service is friendly and helpful. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a high quality framer.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Impressionists - Docudrama

Based on archive letters, records and interviews from the time, the series records the lives of the artists who were to transform the art world. A tale of poverty and of a struggle for recognition, set against a backdrop of war and revolution.

Part 1 (direct link)
Part 2 (direct link)
Part 3 (direct link)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Dimensions of Colour - by David Briggs (Website)

"All painters, whether working in traditional or digital media, are in a real sense navigators in space. Whether they are aware of it or not, each touch of colour they apply can be considered, using various systems, as a point within a space defined by three dimensions." - an excerpt from David Briggs's website "The Dimensions of Colour".  

His site hosts a large amount of well organized/concise information coupled with informative illustrations, including 3D modeling and animations, all of which make this one of the best online color theory resources that I've been able to find.  Thanks Mr. Briggs!  

Direct link:  The Dimensions of Colour

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How Art Made The World - BBC Documentary

I listened to more than watched this five part documentary yesterday while painting.  It's an interesting exploration of the evolution of representational and abstract design and how it's been used, and sometimes exploited, throughout history from everything from self expression to political gain and everything in between.

Part 1 (direct link)
Part 2 (direct link)
Part 3 (direct link)
Part 4 (direct link)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Solvent Free Brush Cleaning...For Oil Painting?

Turpentine Is Dangerous! 

Recently an elderly artist friend of mine passed away due to upper respiratory problems most likely caused by prolonged exposure to turpentine fumes. Day in and day out, painting for countless hours while breathing the fumes from an open container of turpentine sitting just a couple of feet away. This is not good. I love to paint but I’m not prepared to give up my respiratory system...especially when there is such a simple alternative! The only time that I use turpentine is for cleaning my brush after applying a piece's final varnish. That's it...5 minutes and it's closed-up and put away until the next painting is ready for varnish.

For years I have been using walnut oil to clean my brushes with excellent results. It’s an effective brush cleaner, conditions the bristles, and best of all it’s non-toxic. In fact, it’s edible! Because it lasts a lot longer than turps, it's also cheaper. I'm amazed that the following method isn't being taught in art schools as 'the standard' approach to brush cleaning and I've yet to hear any reasonable explanations for the continued archaic misuse of turpentine.

Note: Safflower oil also works well but walnut oil is less viscous which makes it easier to wipe from brushes.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Brush Washer – I use a “Richeson Deluxe Brush Washer”. I've replaced the inner metal strainer with a small plastic spaghetti strainer because porous metal wears down bristles faster than non-porous plastic.

Walnut Oil – I've tried the more expensive "refined" artist-grade walnut oil, but standard grocery store walnut oil is perfect for brush cleaning purposes (which I purchase from my local Vons). I would not suggest using food grade oils as a painting medium. Only artist-grade oils have had the excess fats and other contaminants removed which could adversely effect the chemical properties of your paint.

Note: Because the paint settles to the bottom of the brush washer, it takes me about a year to use one 16oz. can (cost about $9.oo).

LInseed Soap - After experimenting with different popular soaps used for brush cleaning, linseed soap proved to me to be the most gentle and effective. Robert Doak's Linseed Soap has a more liquid/less waxy consistency is my personal preference, but he unfortunately has minimum order requirement. My second choice is Richeson Jack's LInseed Studio Soap.

Hair Conditioner – Any should work.

Solvent free brush cleaning process:

First, wipe away the excess on a towel.

Note: You may not need to clean you brush with oil or soap yet - wiping the brush clean should suffice unless you are moving to a lighter value, a higher chroma or drastically different hue (any of which the excess paint on your brush could muddy your color).

Dip the brush in the walnut oil filled washer, gently dragging the brush in an upward motion (following the contour of the bristles) on the strainer, then dry the brush on a towel being careful not to mash the bristles.

For overnight or long term cleaning (My 'end of the day' routine):

Safflower and Walnut oils are both great for daily brush cleaning, but if you plan to let your brushes sit for more than 24 hours the oil will begin to solidify and destroy the brush, so you'll need to clean them with linseed soap before this happens. Dip the tip of the brush in the linseed soap, then carefully dab and swirl the bristles with the soap and a little water, rinse, and repeat until there is no visible pigment in the rinse. Be careful not to over-work your brushes while cleaning. It’s very easy to hurt the natural shape of your brushes.

Finally, add a very small amount of hair conditioner to the bristles and reshape the tips with your fingers. The conditioner will harden and keep the natural form of your brushes and potentially condition and repair the bristles. The conditioner washes away cleanly when swirled in the brush washer oil.  Wipe excess oil from brush before using.

Oil Paints and Palette

This is my standard 'tried and true' palette. I occasionally incorporate other colors, but they are usually used to achieve a specific effect or to utilize quality of a certain pigement.  

My Standard Pallet

  • Flake & Titanium White (Robert Doak) 
  • Titanium White (Micheal Harding) 
  • Naples Yellow (Micheal Harding) 
  • Yellow Ochre (Micheal Harding) 
  • Cadmium Yellow Light (M. Graham) 
  • Cadmium Red Light (M. Graham) 
  • Alizarin Crimson (M. Graham) 
  • Burnt Sienna (Micheal Harding) 
  • Burnt Umber (Micheal Harding) 
  • Raw Umber (Micheal Harding) 
  • Ultramarine Blue (Micheal Harding) 
  • Lamp Black (Micheal Harding)

Rarely Used Favorites:

  • Blue Ochre Med. (Robert Doak)
  • Cobalt Green Dp. (Robert Doak)
  • Raw Olive Umber (Robert Doak)
  • Trans. Sepia (Robert Doak)
  • Indian Orange (Robert Doak)
  • Etc….
Glass palette - Glass is non-porous and easy to scrape and clean. I spray paint the back of the glass with a middle value neutral grey. The grey aids in the accuracy of color and value mixing.

Mediums, Varnishes and Additives

(transferred form original post - May 2010)

A list of my current favorites…


For Fine Detail:
Italian Wax Medium – Old Masters (brand)

For Heavier Impasto work:
Flemish Maroger – Old Masters (brand)

Liquid Lead – Doak (brand): Used sparingly

Texture Additives:

Tix-O-Gel – Doak (brand): For extremely thick brush work. Strokes keep their shape nicely.

White Sandbox Sand – bought at Home Depot. Ground with a mortar and pestle. The sandy powder yields a very interesting texture.


Liquin Original (Winsor & Newton) – provides a permanent (non-removable), protective coating. Although it isn’t a traditional finishing varnish, it’s common practice for “Trompe L’Oeil” artists to use Liquin as their final coating. Important: only to be applied after the painting has completely dried/oxidized. 1-2 carefully applied, very thin coats leave a uniform matte finish that doesn’t detract from realism effects by adding gloss or visible built-up glossy patches. This was recommend by artist Anthony Waichulis a few years ago and I’ve been very happy with the results ever since.

Damar Varnish – A single uniform coat works well for the final varnish on all “not-so-fine” detailed pieces.

Damar Retouch Varnish (spray can and liquid) – Used to temporarily correct the luminosity, translucency and color of the paint for matching after the paint has dried/oxidized. Use sparingly. Too much build-up will leave glossy patches, which will be amplified by the final varnish coat.

B67 Resin (Doak) – Robert Doak recommended this when I was searching for a high gloss “even” leveling varnish. It was everything Robert said it would be, and more. It is archival and   removable and extremely difficult to work with. Out of the jar it has a honey-like consistency and has to be warmed in a pot of water on a stove-top burner until it’s thin enough to be applied. As it cools it becomes stringy, so the application must be completed very quickly.

Michael Harding Oils Review

(transferred from original post - May 2010)

I have been using Robert Doak oils for years and I would highly recommend them to anyone knowing that they will get a high quality, high pigment load, artist grade paint for the price of student grade. But unfortunately he has a minimum order for shipments and since they’re in New York and I’m in California, buying that one tube of paint that’s desperately needed presents a problem. So I went on a search for a comparable paint that could be ordered in small quantities.

After asking for advise on facebook, seemingly endless googling, and thoroughly reading many different manufacturers websites (keep in mind that I live in the Sierra Mountains so I’m not exactly surrounded artistic input), I finally looked to for some experienced advise.

Note: is an exceptional forum occupied and administrated by some of the worlds finest talent with the primary focus of discussing the science of representational painting.

So, after reading multiple raving reviews by some of the Rational Painting contributors, I decided to give Michael Harding Oils a try and, as luck would have it, Dick Blick carries their line of oil paints.

On first inspection, the tubes looked to be of high quality, but wait…they used actual paint on the label to identify the color of contents in the tube…nice touch Michael!!! It bugs me when I open a tube with the color printed on the label that’s far from the color of the actual paint.

Now to open one: My first thought was that the opening of the tube was a bit small and that this could be an issue for the colors that require a higher pigment load, but after squeezing a little out I realized that the paint has a near perfect consistency - not too buttery, not too grainy, not too chalky or stiff. Some of the smaller paint manufacturers tend to have a big variance in consistency from color-to-color. Although their paints are usually of the highest quality, adding medium to the paint nuts while preparing your palette is required to make the paint ”longer” and more manageable . This is not the case with MH oils and reducing additional steps = more painting time.

Finally, application:

I was surprised to find that all of the colors were very close in consistency without sacrificing opacity. The covering strength is excellent which proves all of the claims of MH’s high pigment load.


I’m now a true fan of Michael Harding Oil Paints! The colors are beautiful and vibrant, the pigment load is high and the covering strength is excellent. The consistency is so perfect that it seems to have been tailor made for my needs. Although I am a loyal user of Robert Doaks ‘flake and titanium white’ and I don’t plan on using any other whites anytime soon, the seven MH colors that I now have are going to be staples in my painting palette and I would highly recommend them to anyone who paints in a similar style.

"Duet" by Slade Wheeler
Painted with Michael Harding Oils and Robert Doak's Flake and Titanium White.

Preparing Painting Panels

(transferred from original post - May 2010)

After experimenting with various woods, thicknesses, supports and grounds, and after extensive research online, books and articles. I believe that I've found a relatively fast, reliable method of preparing high quality wooden panels.


I generally paint on a small scale (16” x 20” maximum) and I've found that building and attaching supports to keep thinner substrates from warping is a step that can be avoided by using thicker high-grade plywood. Although 3/8 inch ply should suffice for sizes under 16 x 20 inches, I prefer to minimize any chances of warping by using ½ inch grade B (or BB) Baltic Birch. There are many types of hardwood ply types and depending on your desired results and application, most will work, but I find the fine grain and overall smooth texture of Baltic Birch ply provides an excellent foundation for a smooth finished panel.
Take care when buying plywood that it is made of one-piece layers stacked horizontal/vertical or so that the grain of each layer runs perpendicular to each succeeding layer. This type of plywood manufacturing is known for it’s exceptional strength and resiliency against warping and bowing.

Materials Needed:
Gesso Types:

There are a lot of artists who will devote hours of painstaking labor into making their materials in the tradition of the old masters or because hand made materials are generally of higher quality (which is why I prepare my own painting surfaces). Store bought panels can have less than desirable finish flaws, warp and even crack. But when it comes to gesso, I feel comfortable in leaving it to the professional manufacturers and I've never had any problems with any over the counter gesso products.

Since the science of painting sometimes brings out the scientist in us, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in experimenting and making artist’s materials, leaving us with little time to paint. In a perfect world we’d have assistants to grind and mix pigments and prepare panels but these days we have to pick our handmade vs. store-bought battles.

The Process:
  1. Cut plywood to size and sand with 200 grit sand paper. Lightly round off the corners and hard edges that can keep the gesso from bonding all the way around the board. Slight scratches, divots and irregularities will eventually be covered with gesso, but you’ll want to sand away any protrusions.
  2. Before applying gesso wipe off any excess dust with a towel and remove residual oils by gently cleaning all sides of the panel with a clean towel and rubbing alcohol. You are now ready to start applying the gesso.
  3. With a soft square brush, my favorite being a 1” Loew-Cornell 1177 Brown Nylon (also great for varnishing), brush on a thin coat of regular acrylic gesso in a horizontal direction to the face. Work the gesso in to the surface and sides and lightly level out the brush strokes. Let it dry for approximately 2 hours.
  4. Once the top and sides have dried thoroughly enough that you feel comfortable flipping it over, lay down a sheet of wax paper and repeat step 2 on the backside of the panel. Be careful to keep the gesso from running onto the face. Let dry for another 2 hours. This coating that will create a strong bond all the way around the panel and will provide a counter layer that will reduce warping and yield a more aesthetically pleasing finished panel. No additional gesso coats are necessary for the back and sides but you can apply them if desired. Let dry for 4 hours.
  5. Once the face is completely dry. Lightly sand all sides with 200 grit sand paper focusing on sanding down high spots and very slightly rounding the edges.
  6. Wipe away dust with a dry towel and apply gesso perpendicular to the first coat. Sand let dry for about 6 hours and repeat this step always apply perpendicular to the previous layer until you have completed 5 coats.
  7. Sand the final regular gesso coat and apply Golden (brand) Sandable Hard Gesso in the same fashion, sanding between coats until you’ve applied at least 3 coats. The Sandable Hard Gesso is excellent for achieving an ivory finish in about half the sanding time. Let completely dry for at least 8 hours.  (You can achive the same finish with only using regualar Gesso for the final coats and omitting the Sandable Hard Gesso)
  8. After the final coat is dry sand with 200 grit sand paper until you have reach your desired surface texture. Personally I like a perfectly smooth ivory-like finish so that the tooth of the panel doesn't detract from the realism effect. Wipe away dust - you are now ready to paint!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Self Taught / Why I Blog?

(transferred from original post - May 2010)

“Self Taught” ...two little words that are frowned upon in some circles and praised in others. Sometimes and in certain situations I found myself a little embarrassed by my lack of a formal art education, and until recently, I did my best to evade the subject. But to be an effective representational painter knowledge is nothing short of a “requirement”. In fact, representational painting continues to be as much a science today as it ever was - if not more. The modern eye is more discerning than even a hundred years ago, but we have something that the past masters did not – hundreds of years of representational master works and the ability to study their techniques, materials, triumphs and errors.

At an early age I focused my efforts on learning from the past masters. Recently while flipping through some childhood drawings I came across a Da Vinci study that I dated at the age of 11. Drawing and studying from books was followed by a string of mentors that took special interests in my talents, then junior college courses and sporadic private lessons and workshops. Ok, so I'm not exactly self-taught, but I had a young hunger for knowledge without the bankroll or inclination to pursue an art school degree, so I had to be creative and decisive in my approach to acquiring a classical education with my limited options.  I continue to spend about 10-15 hours a week studying anything and everything related to art and painting…seeking out information with the goal of coming as close to mastering my craft as possible in my lifetime.

Although I do believe that a formal art education (depending on the school and instructors) will arm potential representation artists with an invaluable set of tools, skill sets and networking opportunities, I also believe that all of the information and opportunities can be had in other ways. Depending on your dedication and research choices, seeking out a personal education can be a slower/less condensed process, but there isn't anything that you can’t learn from studying artwork, books, articles, websites or learning from peers, mentors, workshops and last but not least - practice, practice, PRACTICE.

I am personally in great debt to all of the artists and teachers out there who have taken the time to put their pens to paper, to explain their processes, give honest informative critiques, and yes – even “blog”. For a self-taught artist (for lack of a better term) I have been very fortunate in my career, my experiences with artists and teachers, and in turn, I hope that I can help any painters that are looking for answers to their questions.

I welcome all artists that have a something beneficial to add to this blog regarding materials, resources and techniques, to comment or email me so that we can benefit from each other’s knowledge. I hope that you enjoy this blog and I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!!!