Artists – You Can’t Please Everyone

ATTENTION: This post is for any creative type – NOT JUST artists. Writers, content producers, musicians; this is for you.

As an artist, it’s easy to get caught up on trying to please everybody, but there are really only 2 people you actually need to please, and I’ll share that in a moment.

Before I do, let me address a common pitfall that I’ve come across:

It seems to me that a lot of us have people in our lives that have demands on our lives, whether that’s friends or family or heck – even complete strangers!

And oftentimes – these people mean well. They start giving us thoughts or ideas or suggestions that they would like us to complete to give THEM some sort of satisfaction.

I’m not sure if this comes from some desire for them to live vicariously through us, or they simply want to be known by association if that thing is a success or what – but it can cause us to derail from we know we SHOULD be doing.

It stops us from doing what we feel in our core is what WE want to accomplish.

You as the artist know what you’re trying to achieve.

And when you have all these background voices – these other cooks in the kitchen so to speak – trying to direct what you should do, it takes you away from the important stuff.

It causes your work to suffer.

It makes you less productive because you’re chasing these different avenues.

It makes you feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

I get it. I’ve been there.

So who are the two people you need to satisfy as an artist?

The first person you need to satisfy is yourself.

Most creative people I’ve talked to know the quality of their work and what is most fulfilling about it.

And because of this, they (if they’re being honest with themselves) know if their work is up to their standards or not.

Is it good quality?

Does it achieve the goal or message or look you wanted – at least in a way that it feels complete?

If someone sees it, do they see my style or personality in it?

Only you can answer these questions as the creator, and if you’re too busy trying to chase other people’s versions of these things…

…You may never live up to it because it’s THEIR VISION.

When I started painting, I had a ton of people ask me if I did landscapes or portraits or murals. And I told them “no.”

But almost every one of them came back with “you should totally do this because of XYZ” or “I think you’d be really good at it if you just gave it a shot”. Things like that.

But truth is – I knew right away that I would not enjoy painting those things.

Even if I took the time to become semi-decent at those methods, it wouldn’t have fulfilled me.

It was the same thing when I was writing before this.

I’d tell people about a project I was working on, and they’d say things like “what if the characters did this” or “you know what would be cool? If XYZ happened in the story…”

There’s not enough time to try every idea, nor enough energy to entertain every direction your creative work could go.

The second person you need to satisfy is your buyer.

I care so much about what people think of me as a person, that I’m literally AFRAID of disappointing them.

In fact, recently, I had someone buy a small painting of mine. I had another similar painting that I actually felt went with it, and because I didn’t want to fail them, I over-delivered, and sent the other panting AT NOT EXTRA COST.

Now, I did this because I felt it was right at the time (and it served me well) but I also did it because I didn’t want the customer to have a bad experience with me as a seller.

But look- you’re going to get tough customers – even if you do over-deliver. That happens.

And if you’re just starting out or every sale counts and you can’t pick and choose your buyers, then you will have to deal with these customers eventually. It’s a nature of business.

Maybe they don’t like your product for some inane reason.

Or they just want this one thing changed. Again.

Or maybe they simply had buyers remorse.

But here’s the thing: you can still continue to over-deliver, and if it’s not right – simply don’t do business with them again after this and move on.

These people tend to be the minority.

While I think that customers should be treated with respect, I don’t believe they’re always right. Sometimes the expectation just can’t be met no matter how hard you try.

If it comes down to satisfying you or the buyer in the end, I say choose yourself.

Here’s why:

If you create what you genuinely like or are passionate about, you can enjoy the process. 

Bu this only works if you’re not worried about what everyone else thinks or wants.

If you enjoy the process, and you don’t make any sales – well hey – at least you enjoyed making the damn thing. And you can now move on if you’re happy with it.

At this point, I pretty much only create pieces that I know that I will like.

Of course, if someone requests a commission (not just making a suggestion but is ACTUALLY WILLING TO PAY FOR IT) – then I’ll make a piece and they can buy it if they like it, but it still has to conform to my styles in it’s final form.

Just keep putting out the work and enjoy the process, this way you don’t hate it and give it up.

And you never know when you might put out the right piece at the right time and someone who has never purchased from you might buy that particular piece, and that’s the one that kicks bigger things into motion.

God bless.

Coty

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What Happens if You Don’t Use Stretcher Bars?

If you’re thinking about making your own canvas, you may be tempted to use some flat looking 2×2’s or so, cut out four of them to fit your rectangle (or square – with maybe a few pieces across the middle sections), attach them together with some staples and glue, and you’re off to the races!

Yeah! You just spent $20 to make a squar-ish frame!

Go you! That’s great…

…If you want that bad boy to warp…

…Or not have the ability to be tightened later…

…Or you want your painting to “ghost.”

Lemme esplain.

First off, stretcher bars (or at least decent ones worth buying) are made of kiln-dried, knot free wood.

What this means is that they have been dried out as best as possible, taking out most – if not all – of the moisture in the wood that would otherwise cause it to warp later on.

It being knotless also means less likely of being wavy, instead of straight.

Of course, these pieces may have SOME knots or moisture, but considerably less than a normal piece of wood that you’d buy at a lumber yard or hardware store.

There’s a reason you pay a premium for a stretcher bar or cross brace and a few bucks for a 2′ x 2′.

Another advantage that stretcher bars have is that they are LITERALLY MADE TO BE ADJUSTED.

Stretcher bars have gaps in the corners to allow for tension wedges or “canvas keys.” This allows the canvas to be tightened later on, should the frame slightly warp or canvas sag a bit.

There are arguments that if done correctly, a canvas should never need to be tightened, but IMO it’s nice to have the option, should it ever happen.

Finally, canvas stretcher bars prevent “ghosting.” Ghosting is when the shape of the frame emerges underneath the canvas (painting) itself.

This is a problem for two reasons:

  1. It detracts from the piece. Sometimes it makes it look cheap or tacky, being able to see the frame underneath. There will be this giant square within your painting. Certainly less professional.
  2. It’s harder to correct sagging. On a flat frame, the painting will often rest on the flat surface of the frame itself, and if it does, you’ve got to get it tight enough to pull up off of that frame. The more surface its resting on, the more work you’ve got to do.

This becomes a real problem if the frame is flat, with a sagging canvas resting on that flat frame that ALSO does not have any room for canvas keys.

Stack this on top of warping wood later on, and maybe you can see the problem with using regular wood to make a frame as opposed to stretcher bars.

I have actually seen this on cheaper, flatter canvases. Usually on student grade canvases, where the depth is only 3/4″ (or .8 inches). I’ve have also bought them handmade, from a local dealer, and these pieces too had this issue.

Even using braces, these pieces are still warped TO THIS DAY.

Stretcher bars almost always have a beveled edge so that only the very edge of the corner gives the frame its shape, and the rest of the frame fades away under the canvas, leaving a nice flat canvas with crisp, clean edges.

Obviously, the choice to use regular wood is yours, but I’ve found that by cutting these corners, you run the risk of the piece suffering later on.

My parting advice would be this:

If you’re creating it for yourself – sure. Go for it. Try it out. See if I’m wrong (wouldn’t be the first time).

But if you’re planning on selling those pieces later, my suggestion is to invest in the stretcher bars.

The power is yours.

Coty

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Stretched vs Unstretched Canvas Differences

When it comes to painting on canvas, you’ve really only got two choices: stretched (canvas already wrapped around a frame) and unstretched, which usually comes rolled up and is literally just a sheet of canvas.

Today, for my fellow artists who have not really experimented with one or the other, I’d like to discuss some of the major differences between the two.

Availibility

Stretched canvas is usually a commonplace staple in most hobbyist craft stores like Michaels or Joann’s, coming in various sizes.

(I tend to find better variety and deals from Michaels).

At the more niche art supply stores like Blick and local vendors, you’ll usually find an even greater variety, albeit at a slightly steeper price.

This is where you’ll probably find the rolled (unstretched) canvas as well.

Most places will sell predefined, already cut rolls, while many of the bigger chains tend to offer cutting for you a specified length from a large roll that they have hanging on the wall.

Of course you can find both online as well.

Much of it can be found on Amazon, although not all of it is worth buying from there, since price and quality varies.

Check a few websites before purchasing to compare. I’ve used Blick and Jerry’s Artarama, and gotten decent prices. Always look for sales and coupons.

Pricing

Stretched canvas can be expensive. Not on sale, one large sized, (36” x 48”) gallery wrapped canvas can be about $80.

That’s steep.

Especially considering that one roll of canvas, precut at Blick, that is 72” by 108” is roughly $100.

(Keep in mind: Prices will vary.)

Of course, the price of a stretched canvas includes its frame, so I really think that’s where the spike comes from.

Another thing: if you DO decide to buy online, keep in mind shipping costs. If you buy large canvases or rolls, your prices will jump if it’s considered oversized, sometimes doubling the final cost.

Generally speaking, rolls are cheaper than stretched pieces of the same size since you’re just paying for the canvas itself.

Preparation

Stretched canvas almost always comes primed with some sort of gesso. In fact, it seems harder to find ones that aren’t – so you can start painting right away.

Rolled tends to come both ways; primed and unprimed.

I think this comes down to personal preference as to which you’d buy, but unprimed (raw) canvas does tend to be slightly cheaper than primed.

Most artists will start painting right on the primer. A small amount apply a thin skim coat first, so that the base is smooth or filled in before getting into the nitty gritty.

One thing to factor in is how cheap the primer feels. If it feels good enough to start laying on paint – great! But if its a cheaper prime, you may want to go ahead and add a quick skim coat before painting fully.

Application

Obviously, with a frame you have a little more flexibility with how you can paint.

On the wall, the ground or on an easel.

With a flat sheet of canvas you’re sort of confined to a flat horizontal surface, or pinned to a wall. (Or some strange angle I haven’t thought of)

However, the advantage that I have found with flat canvas is that it gives you nice even distribution of paint when pressure or weight is applied.

With canvas that is prestretched over a frame, sometimes the weight or your hands or the paint itself will cause the painting to sag towards the middle.

I’ve personally had this happen to me, and it literally ruined my paintings. The paint – too much apparently! – created a huge blob in the center that stood out against the whole piece. It was really noticeable.

Lesson learned.

Finishing

Going the stretched route, you’ll tend to have most – if not all – of your piece on the face (aka the front) of your canvas, since the edges sort of isolate the piece.

What this means is that you’ll have the sides of the painting to deal with.

There are a few options here:

  • You can leave them unpainted. I’ve seen a few professional artists do this. If you’re confident enough to pull this off, I salute you.
  • You can paint them a solid color. More often than not, it’s black. Black tends to give the piece a solidarity, usually separating it from whatever surface it’s up against, since most walls are not black. It’s also not distracting.
  • Lastly, you can use the colors of the piece to give the piece a feeling of continuation from one end to the other. I tend to do this because I like the idea of the whole piece using the same colors.

Now about unstretched canvas.

What’s cool about using flat canvas is the fact that you can do your whole piece on the strip of canvas, then wrap the frame after, and have the painting overlap the sides so that the painting literally goes all the way around the frame. And when you look at the sides, it’s still a contiguous part of what’s on the face.

This is great for abstract. Not sure if it’s as useful for realist type paintings like portraits and landscapes.

Packing and Shipping

When shipping already stretched paintings, you have a few obstacles to worry about:

  • The frame warping or cracking
  • The canvas getting punctured or saggy
  • The painting getting crushed or bent

Not only that, the costs for shipping stretched paintings can be quite high.

How high? To get an idea, read this post about what it cost me to ship to Singapore.

Rolled paintings are awesome to ship or sell.

I’ve seen quite a number of artists these days that sell rolled paintings, so that they don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to ship the piece. They don’t even stretch them. Just paint, roll and ship!

I too do this. My paintings Atlantis and Chasing Sunsets are examples of this.

Shipping these bad boys is as simple as putting them into a cardboard tube and sending them off.

Way cheaper too.

Pricing and Selling

If you’re selling a rolled painting, I’d advise of selling for less, since it’s less work for you and more for the buyer.

They either have to hang this large tapestry like piece OR have it stretched themselves.

I generally sell my unstretched paintings for around half the price as its stretched counterpart.

As for the overall price, the general rule of thumb for newer artists is to charge $00.25 per square inch, but only you can decide that based on your comfort level.

Conclusion

Overall, I’ve been leaning towards using stretched canvas for my medium sized paintings, and unstretched for my larger ones, since I’m willing to put in more work for more money 😉.

One advantage to this route is simply cost. If I mess up a larger painting, it costs less to buy more canvas rolls than actual canvases. And when it comes out good, I can just buy the stretcher bars to fit the painting if need be.

Easy peasy.

Hopefully you found this article to be helpful. If you did, consider sharing it.

If didn’t – go to the doctor.

Just kidding.

All the best and thanks for reading.

Coty

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Is Abstract Art Easy?

Is Abstract Art Easy?

For most, yes.

Compared to most other forms of art…

It’s easier to pick up and do, especially if you have no previous training (this is why kids can become famous for doing it)…

It’s easier to make in the aspect of time consumption…

I can make a large abstract painting in a few hours, whereas another person might spend days or even weeks on that same size creating a realistic portrait or landscape.

(Now Bob Ross hated abstract, but even he could churn out a whole painted scene in under a half hour – just saying… you could be quick at anything)

It’s easier to market due to its broad definition…

So many things are considered “abstract” that it’s easy to slap some coats of paint on a canvas and send it to market. Same day.

So is it easy?

Unfortunately so.

Any time something is easy – there will be an overabundance of people doing it with the vain hope of succeeding due to their “talent.”

I talk about this with low barrier to entry in this blog post, and how the easier something is, the more crap that comes out it.

Since there are a lot of people doing it, there’s a lot of indiscernible junk out there.

That’s just the way it is.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

There ARE decent abstract artists out there who genuinely care about the craft. They care about the time and quality of the pieces they create. I frequently use Ed (Swarez) as an example. He uses quality materials, plans out his pieces, and provides amazing, personable service. (He’s my unofficial mentor.)

I too hope to be an example of that someday.

So is abstract art easy?

Is Abstract Art Easy?

Is Abstract Art Easy?

If you’re just starting out, and want to make something to say you made it. Yes.

If you don’t honestly care about the quality of the materials or end product. Yes.

If you like putting paint on a canvas and don’t really know or care how it will turn out. Yes.

But if you care about the end product…

…and it tears at your soul to put out something you – as the creator – feel is garbage – even just a little bit…

…and it keeps you up at night thinking about how you will accomplish something new, something greater than what you have done up until this point, or dwelling on how to correct your latest mistake that took a decent painting in the wrong direction…

… And you hate settling for what everyone else is doing…

Then no, my friend.

Abstract Art is NOT easy. At all.

Coty

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Is Abstract an Excuse to Make bad Art?

First off, the easy answer. No. The more complicated answer: no.

But instead of giving you the cliché answers of “well abstract is more about the way you FEEL,” or “it’s different for everyone – your interpretation will be different than everyone else’s,” I’d rather talk of the medium itself.

Let’s get one thing straight: abstract – whether you like it or not – IS an accepted form of art. And no – not because it’s easy or a way for “pseudo-artists” to pass off half-finished paintings as “art.”

Abstract was started with the intention of testing limits, trying new mediums, and breaking conventions, which, the forefathers are recognized for. They accomplished their goal.

But as time went on, the work became less linear, less defined, and less unique. The mediums overlapped, the methods grew lazy, and with minimal strokes of the brush, these pieces became the new standard of art.

Maybe you’ve seen Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Painting”, which consists of (at least) three large white canvases that sold for millions? Or Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square – which is exactly what it sounds like…

A painted black square.

When looking at pieces like these, it’s easy to see why people can get frustrated with the idea of abstract.

Thinking its pretentious or lazy or even garbage.

But how about going the other way?

What if you see a piece that overwhelms the eye; one that is seemingly a bunch of colors thrown on a canvas with no forethought, or a heavy sense of carelessness?

Surely all those artists didn’t INTEND for it to look the way it does, did they?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Lines March On - Is this an Excuse for Bad Abstract Art?

Is Abstract an Excuse for Bad Art?

Either way, I’d agree, to an extent.

If you read or watch Jackson Pollock’s story, he actually discovered the drip method on accident when paint from his brush dripped onto a piece he had already been working on. He added more and more, finding a fresh excitement in it, and it took off.

The rest is history.

Now, I’m newer to abstract art, so I don’t really know too many other artists’ story, but I’d surmise that they probably stumbled onto the methods that they’re famous for through trial and error, until it just sort of… clicked.

And even the intentional pieces – like a Rothko or a Reinhardt, which is mostly composed of a single color or a very limited color pallet (and moreover confined to painted squares predominantly) – was probably not what they had first envisioned at the onset.

I’d wager that those signature styles came after making dozens (if not hundreds) of previous paintings and one day, they had an idea to make a piece in that style. And it stuck.

So, let’s come back to the question at hand – is abstract art an excuse for bad art?

Obviously, I already answered this, but let explain why.

Abstract art is just like any other genre of a creative medium – it can be judged.

From sci-fi movies to fantasy novels to rap music, these are all genres and even abstract art can be judged for its quality.

But how do you judge something that seemingly has no defined standard of measure?

I won’t lie – it’s a bit challenging – but I will say it’s possible.

Here a few questions you can ask yourself:

Does the composition make sense? Even if the piece doesn’t have some sort of “secret meaning” or “hidden interpretation” you can easily judge a piece by its compositional quality. Do the colors represent something? Do they make sense? Or does the piece seem to “flow?”

Was the finished piece intentional? You ever looked at a piece and wondered if it was finished? Or if it was an accident? Look, sometimes accidental pieces are great pieces, but there’s a difference in something that was meant – even left if there was mistake that was made that made the piece inherently better – than a work that was just whipped up for show.

Does this piece stand on its own? If you look at that piece, does it seem whole? Could you look at that one piece and not see any more works from that artist, and it would signify them in some way? Or does it look every other piece in the museum/gallery or on the internet? Does it stand out for some reason?

It this piece alone? Inversely from above, which pits the work against similar works of other artists, does the piece signify the artist by the way it represents the artist? Can you look at this piece, then another by that same artist and see some sort of similarity? Would you be able to look at another piece from that same artist – not knowing beforehand that it was by that same person – and guess that it was by some common theme or element?

Let’s be real – everyone’s opinion will vary and it would be foolish for me to try and argue my points to someone in order to persuade them.

If you don’t like abstract and think it’s a waste STILL, then I won’t waste any more words on the subject.

It’s okay – I didn’t use to like abstract before a year ago. One day I just became interested in it, and I started doing it and now it’s ingrained. Probably sounds melodramatic but it’s the truth.

Even so – I still judge it based on what I know.

Because truthfully – not all abstract IS good. There are a TON of artists out there that put out some pretty bad works and call it “art.”

But this is not confined to abstract – you see this is in everything from realist paintings to sculptures.

Just because the art is abstract does NOT give the artist an excuse to make bad/lazy/unfinished work.

Coty

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My Biggest Problem with Abstract Art

My biggest problem with abstract art is actually not confined TO abstract art or art in general. In fact, it affects many other creative mediums including videography, writing, and audio.

And this issue has only gotten worse over time. And will probably worsen.

So what is it?

It’s a low barrier to entry. More namely, a lack of effort.

Allow me to explain.

First off, a simple definition:

Barriers to entry is the economic term describing the existence of high startup costs or other obstacles that prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business. (source: Investopedia.com)

I first noticed this problem a few years ago when I was writing.

When Amazon started allowing self-published books, there was this sort “revolution” in people’s minds toward publishing.

People were cheering and there was this idea of “yeah, gonna start posting all of my ideas and bypassing traditional methods of finding an agent and publisher and I’m gonna make tons of money and finally become a famous writer.”

It sounded great. In theory.

As many things do.

And some of these self-pub writers WERE good. Their work was read worthy.

But the cream of the crop always rises.

Many, many others started pumping out books left and right and you could see that much of their work of considerably low quality…

Massive amounts of typos. Terrible formatting. No sense of overall direction in the book.

Maybe you’ve witnessed this yourself. (Maybe I’m the only one.)

I’m not saying these writers were BAD PEOPLE; simply that they were rushing things and taking shortcuts simply because the barrier to entry had been lowered.

This idea you could write a book and put it online in a matter of hours meant (to them) you no longer needed an agent or a publisher or an editor.

And the results of not having any of these things clearly shows in much of their work.

And you know what? I did it too.

And my work was sub-par.

It didn’t sell. It was boring. And it needed a lot more work that I wasn’t willing to put in.

So I pulled those books so that other wouldn’t have to suffer reading my sloppy manuscripts.

And It’s not Amazon’s fault, either. I think eventually it would have happened anyway.

But again, this is one example.

Over the past decade, with shifts in social media and the internet and technology in general, this has surfaced in just about every medium.

Nowadays, anyone with a cell phone or webcam can upload videos to YouTube and start a channel. Or start recording podcasts and uploading to Itunes. Or their own music to SoundCloud.

It’s not a bad thing that so many people have access to these amazing tools…

… It’s a matter of their effort. Or lack thereof.

For every decent Youtuber or Self Published Writer or SoundCloud artist, there’s bound to be 9 others that aren’t that great. (If we’re following Sturgeon’s Revelation, which summarily says that 90% of anything available is crap.)

Since such power is wielded by so many, you have to think – not all of those people are good. They simply can’t be, or they’d all be success stories.

Just look at American Idol. Out of hundreds, only a few dozen even make it past round one.

But I think that the ones with what I call the “Shortcut Mentality,” are the same ones who couldn’t make it with the traditional methods.

Maybe they gave up easily. Or their heart wasn’t really in it for the long run. Or they were chasing fame or fortune or vanity as opposed to master the craft.

Maybe they simply weren’t as great as they thought they were.

Which leads me back to my original problem with abstract art:

Due to its very nature, almost anything can be claimed as “abstract art,” and frankly –

It’s disgusting.

Even as an abstract artist myself – I think there’s a lot of garbage out there. Including some of my own works.

As such, since abstract art is so broad and encompassing, it means that by its very nature, it has a very low barrier to entry to create a piece that is “abstract.”

Honestly, this frustrates the Hell of out me.

And I can see why people hate abstract art because of it.

When I look at Pinterest (yes I use it… for color inspiration) or Instagram or even YouTube tutorials, I find myself frowning at much of the work I see.

A lot of it looks like it was made in seconds, with zero to absolute bare minimum effort.

No color composition. No physical work involved. No clear direction or method intended.

This is why I actually stopped creating poured paintings…

After I had made a few pieces, there was no real way to tell apart what I made, versus like the thousand pouring artists on YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not dissing “pouring artists” or “fluid artists” as whole – I have seen some really talented ones.

But the ones that I admire actually pay attention to the things I mentioned above:

They have a sense of color coordination. Their composition is somewhat planned. They know the materials inside and out. There’s a sense of signature style that you can recognize from piece to piece.

Overall, I suppose it’s not necessarily the barrier to entry itself, but moreso the lack of effort on the part of people looking to make abstract art simply for a quick buck or recognition as an artist, as opposed to doing it because they feel like they have to in order to get rid of that idea that plagues them into madness. Or because they admire the challenge of tackling a tough piece.

I won’t stand up here on my soapbox any longer at this point. I have made some simpler pieces and even done poured ones myself that I hated afterward.

But simple is not the same as lazy. You could use one or two colors to make a statement and million with no direction in mind.

But now I’d really like to know:

What’s your biggest problem with abstract art?

Coty

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