Saturday, March 28, 2015

Confessions of a Competition Junkie

Been There. Done That

I was raised to compete though to be entirely honest I hate it. I ended up going into every sport which was not competitive and giving up all that were. Later, when I was confronting my demons, I competed in dog shows. Skywalker and I retired shortly after his first third place finish. He liked competing. I did not. I would from time to time run him around a park and pin a ribbon to his collar.

I got lured back into competitions when applying for art fairs. Four hundred artists trying for 200 booths is a competition. I was getting the booths once I learned the rules. Winning, as it were, is all about the rules. My art vita listed all which I could count on being in. And when I stopped going to art fairs I started competing for places in exhibitions. I told myself it was advertising. It got my name out there. So does shooting at a cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

Like I used to get in fairs I always got into exhibits. And I won ribbons, and certificates and prize money. All my wins went on the Art Vita. I was a competition junkie like Skywalker. But it seemed rather hallow. I was about to give it up when my sister went big time into photography and I joined her in competing in photographic competitions. For her, of course. She always beat me. (That may be why I gave up competing in sports). One show the two of us got three of the four prizes. Heady. But the truth of the matter is only winners like competitions. And most losers hate the winners.

Been there. Done That. was my first ribbon in photography. It received a second. At the time that was one of my lower prizes. But it holds one more distinction: It is the only prize winner to have been sold. And not at the exhibition where it won second. But I got three pieces in that particular exhibit and one of the others sold. One that didn't even get honorable mention. I have sold multiple copies of both photographs after the competition.

In fact, I have never sold a winner at any competition exhibit. My losers do far better. So why enter a competition? Several recent articles I have read, including one by a gallery owner, says you shouldn't. And one by an artist of some note said they are all stacked against you. Competitions are only for the benefit of the gallery or organization putting it on. And in my competition history (including the dog shows) I know that is true more often than not. I do not care what they say about the judges not knowing the artists at the time of judging. It just isn't true. Masked signatures are just a rouse. Most judges know the leading artists' work even without the signature. And they will vote for the known over the unknown every time. I am sure we could do a blind study to prove that. This is not sour grapes. I mostly win ribbons but I lose something too.

What competitions do for me is they make me think about the quality of my work be it painting or photography and they spur my creativity. I came to especially like themed contests because it often got me thinking along new subjects. But I do not need a competition to do that. Just like Skywalker did not need the other dogs. I can challenge myself.

Loser in the MFAF Art Competion

But I recently entered another competition. I recently entered the above mixed media work in my first competition in over a year. I was depressed immediately. I felt like a Judas Goat because I did it to inspire others to enter. To get rid of that slimy feeling (maybe why I left competing) I painted what I wanted to paint.

Conspiracy of Ravens
19 x 44 Mixed Media on Canvas

I love my ravens. Working on the sketch for yet another in the series. No deadline, no entry fees, no rules on subject or size. I heard today that Glorious lost. The artist I knew would win won.

The Conversation
18 x 30 Mixed Media on Canvas

But I have hopes for Glorious. She is a loser and my losers almost always sell. The winners hang on my walls. Next to their ribbons. And she was the sourdough starter for my ravens.

In dog shows I quickly got to the point I could guess the winner by knowing the judge's name and the breeders Skywalker would be up against. Never even had to enter the ring. It was fun only while I was learning the rules like never wear slacks when showing your dog or watching your dog being shown by a hired handler.

If you want to see the winners and losers go to the other pages in this blog or visit Binford-Bell Studio on Facebook or in Black Lake.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Week 12 - 2015 in Photographs

Day 78

Another week dominated by buildings. And there are three black and whites. Once both were a rarity in my photography but they have become far more frequent. Buildings were harder to find than mountains in my day to day photographic jaunts. And black and white I really had to work at. My sister is the mistress of that and I stuck with color. Often outlandish color. I have had to work at the black and white.

What I would call noisy or busy subjects work very well with black and white. The church above was perfect for it. The absence of color allows the viewer to focus on the shapes and the shadows and textures. I also tried out black and white on the church below. I liked it better, however, with just a reduction of the saturation. There is too much flat, empty sky for black and white in my opinion. By reducing the saturation I essentially ended up with a sepia building against a pale blue sky.

When I was learning to do black and white I used to sneak up on it by playing with saturation in photo editing. I would try every photo I took to see if I liked it in black and white better than color.

Day 79

A book I read said noisy skies were best in black and white so the storm moving in photograph below was a natural. And I tried it out. However, I like the hint of blue in the opposing corners of this stormy sky. Trying photographs out in black and white made me appreciate color.

Day 80

Color is no long the default option. Also how to treat a photo in B&W has helped in enhancement of photographic subjects which are almost monochromatic like ranges of mountains.

Day 81

And some subjects just cry to be colorless if you will. Another article I read on black and white photography said the photographer needed to go out to specifically photograph black and white. And in film days you had to. I can remember loading up two camera - one with black and white film and one with color.

Aspens in winter and snow scenes are two subjects I have found where I set out to "see" them in black and white. Course with digital cameras and post processing on our computers the options are open forever.

Day 82

I took the photograph of the old barn thinking it would be a great black and white because of the tones on the rusting metal of the building. But color won out. The purple on the mountain picked up the purple in the shadows to well to delete it. A cloud filled sky with cloud shadows on the mountain might have totally changed the equation.

Day 83

This last photograph shows the "tin" roof and the texture the black and white treat brings out in it and the crumbling adobe. This old territorial building works very well in B&W even without a cloud in the sky. In fact in my humble opinion the clear sky enhances the foreground textures. And in color the sky's intense blue is echoed no where else in the photograph.

Day 84

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week 11 - 2015 in Photographs

Day 71

Signs of an on again/off again winter. Or should I say fickle spring? The snow plows and road graders were up and down roads almost constantly for ten days. I caught this grader at rest beside piles of road top (we do not use salt) for the plows. It was a sunny day and the snow was melting on its own.

Day 72

We call it mud and flood season. Some of the new folk haven't come to realize that snow tires are also mud tires. And the snow is easier. I try to get out on my rounds of pet clients before ten so the mud is frozen. But sometimes I forget how really slippery our mud is. And as a friend pointed out, it has no bottom like snow.

Day 73

I tried to walk out through the snow to get a closer view of the cat tails but beneath the snow was mud. Cat tails, I am reminded, grow in marsh and around streams. The marsh below these was not frozen. Spring can be a dangerous time. I worry about my dogs around ponds that are beginning to thaw. I have tried to teach them to not even walk on the ice in the middle of winter.

Day 74

Even the plows and graders need chains. I understand these weigh about 100 pound each. These were I believe partly plastic because the side chains were blue. Even in black and white you can see the difference in the material. I guess the plastic is to make them lighter. Someone after all has to lift them from the hooks where they hang to the tire to fit them on. There is usually someone in a county pickup around tending to the graders. BTW they can get stuck in the unfrozen ground beneath the snow they are moving around.

Day 75

Another danger of spring is falling snow and ice. Sitting in my house I can hear the bombs falling as the sun warms up the collected snow on the roof. We have worked so hard at insulation to prevent escaping heat we forget that is is a warm roof which allows the snow to slide off. All snow melts at the bottom first whether on the ground or your house. Ergo the ice cycles.

Day 76

Snow can fall from the trees as you walk through the forest. In an aspen forest less snow to fall but walking under Ponderosas and lodge pole pines can be dangerous. I seem to remember a short story about that. Spring snows are heavy because of the increased moisture.

Day 77

It has been raining all night and melting what remains of the snow. The streams are full from snow melt and the ground saturated. It is suppose to get cold enough for the rain to become snow tonight. Ahhhh, spring.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Conversation

The Conversation
18 x 30 Mixed Media on Artists Canvas

When I finished The Conspiracy I was already configuring The Conversation in my head. Now I am already working on The Agreement. At least that is what I think the duet of ravens in the next painting will be called. It is difficult to know exactly where a painting begins. Some less imaginary artists probably do not count the start until they put pencil to sketch pad to begin the drawing.

For me this series of paintings began in 2010 at the Petrified forest. A raven had staked out a rock from which to beg. He had obviously used great thought. It was close enough to the foot path that visitors could toss him a crumb but beyond where the people were suppose to walk. And far enough from the Do Not Feed the Raven sign that his audience had forgotten.

Painted Desert Denizen
10 x 10 on cradled Panel

I, of course, took his picture. And once back to my studio began to play with drawing and painting this totem.

But while ravens began playing a larger role in my paintings they did not get star billing until this year. But they also never quite left my mind. I became intensely interested in watching the ravens in my neighborhood and their various behaviors. There is definitely a reason a group of them is called a conspiracy. They seem to be constantly in communication with each other whether verbally or with various body movements.

Sky Poured

I chose Delicate Arch in Arches National Monument to be the background from my threesome. And then for composition reasons put another arch where no arch is. Artistic license. The yellow sky had worked so well in The Conspiracy I had to do it again. The paintings are a different size but because of palette they could exist in the same room.

Laying in middle ground colors, and India ink definitions on the ravens.

The India ink allows for a crisp definition of some of the feathers and to put in the places where the bird should be the darkest.

Colors and details of the background added in

Yes, the La Sal Mountains of Utah can be seen behind the Delicate Arch. And yes, they are frequently snow capped. They certainly were the last May I was there.

Ravens' colors laid in
Painting the ravens is a layered task. Yes, they are black. But an iridescent black and so boring if they were painted black. As discussed in the process blog on The Conspiracy they are about four different colors all overlapping and mixed together. I use a q-tip to lighten some areas up and another coat of paint to darken some down.

Almost done

I got out the oil sticks again for this painting. Did not use them on The Conspiracy but I felt the ground around and under the ravens required more texture and color. I also put some areas of green in; Sage before the arch on the left and a dark pine green before the La Sal's on the right. Patches of rabbit bush and snake week around the feet of the birds.

I changed the value of the red canyon behind Delicate Arch, and put a white wash over the La Sal Mountains and some of the sandstone bluffs on the horizon. There is a lot of details put in between this version of the painting and the finished one at the top of this blog. I changed the background of the raven on the right. And lastly I put in my murder of crows in the sky.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Week Ten - 2015 in Photographs

Day 64

Week ten is all about snow. It was a big part of almost two weeks. It snowed almost daily and so snow became a major topic for the week in photography. I love aspens in the snow. And snowy woods and shadows on the snow.

I love how snow reduces everything to a monochromatic essence. Snow also makes for great black and white images. This week was fun to take.

Day 65

Day 65 is probably my all time favorite trees in the snow photo. And the central subject, up close and personal, is proof you do not have the have the top and the bottom in a tree picture.

Day 66

And what exploration of winter with a camera is complete without ice cycles. I tilted the camera because the sliding snow tilted the ice cycles. It became a black and white because I didn't want the background colors to distract from the subject.

Day 67

This particular scene has been featured in a couple photos before. But this one is the first before any tracks got made on this country lane.

Day 68

Snow also simplifies things amazingly. I love this picture of four trees but never took selected it before because without the almost white out snow conditions the background is too complicated. There are other trees and hills and mountain ranges. And I did not make it black and white. The snow and the quality of the light did.

Day 69

Add a little sun breaking through the cloud cover and a snowy day gathers color.  Mostly blue. No post processing required.

Day 70

The only thing you have to work at to capture great pictures on a snow day is walking and driving. And if you fall hold the camera up.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Week Nine - 2015 in Images

Day 57
Back to a miscellaneous week. Looking back over the last couple of weeks and picking out a few treasures that had slipped by me. The first two are from February 13 and the last beautiful week before the snowy weather returned to our state. One of the things I love about New Mexico is that winter is a come and go season.

Day 58

Shadows are an assignment for 2015. A couple years ago I really focused on reflections. And a friend mentioned he was focusing on shadows. I haphazardly began to try and select shadows in my photographs. Shadows, like reflections, come and go. It takes an early morning or late evening with strong light. Day 57 and Day 58 had the qualifying strong light.

Day 59

And then the snows came. For those keeping notes the snow began on February 22 and continued through March 4th. Now and again the sun broke through and presented some week shadows. I took this photograph because of the shadows of the clouds in the snowy field behind the old adobe house. When clouds begin to break up you get the shadows beneath them.

When the cloud cover gets thin you get gentle shadows like those on this pine cuddling an aspen. It gives more definition to the snow balanced on the branches.

Day 60

Below I returned to my love of reflections. The adobe wall and the blue window frames make these reflections look like abstracts in a gallery.

Day 61

The photograph below was one I took between attempts to capture cloud shadows on the unmarked field of snow.

Day 62
Same with the old school house turned antique shop below. The light on the ice cycles and their shadows cast on the wall was a gift. As were the reflections in the panes on the door and upper windows. This was some of the last sun for several days.

As soon as I took this photograph I drove home as the clouds closed in solid above me and the snow began again.

Day 63

Monday, March 2, 2015

Conspiracy of Ravens - A Process Blog

Conspiracy of Ravens
19 x 44 Mixed Media on Canvas

First there was this horse painting I did on commission. Subject, size and date of completion were of the primary importance so I ordered stretcher bars.  Two sets of the 19 x 44 because if things can go wrong they will go wrong. Especially with deadlines, and longer stretcher bars can warp. They didn't. The commission was completed without a glitch and I was left with an extra set of 19 x 44 stretcher bars. And a complete boredom with mustang paintings for the moment. So I began looking for another subject for this off standard size.

I have been wanting to do a raven painting but it frankly did not make sense to begin with such a large canvas for an untried subject. Ravens are not everyone's cup of tea and they're black. I decided I could bring color into the composition by placing the ravens in front of a Painted Desert landscape. Or Monument Valley. Or Arches. I settled on Landscape Arch and began drawing. Like with my paintings of horses I had been sketching individual ravens for some time. I only had to pick the ones I wanted to use and place them around on a sketch of Landscape Arch and then trace them as a whole.

Sketch for Conspiracy of Ravens transferred to canvas

I was very pleased with the drawing, and who says ravens have to be black. In the desert sun they seem almost iridescent. Throwing caution to the wind I stretched the canvas and began work. One of the nice aspects of stretching your own canvas is if it does not work out you remove the offending effort and stretch new canvas.

Yellow sky poured and orange sun floated in

If ravens do not have to be black and then skies do not have to be blue. Or suns yellow.

Laying in tones with three colors of India Ink.

Nor do arches have to be sandstone colored.  After the basic colors for the background was laid in I defined the ravens with black India Ink. The ravens are by the way making a pile of colored stones. They do happen to like to play with pebbles and shiny objects. And actually drop golf balls from the course three miles away into my backyard.

Two of four ravens painted in

In my mustang paintings every wild horse has different coloring but I could not see that working with ravens. I was asking enough that they were Cobalt Violet, Payne's grey and Ultramarine blue rather than black.  I did not have four legs and wild manes and tails to define character. It was going to have to be done with cock of head and beaks.

Wrong colors as the background fights with my stars
At this stage I was rather pleased basically with my ravens but unhappy with their environment. Too many values too close. I spent one snowed in day changing colors of the landscape.

Ready for detailing and refining

More green was added as a cooling influence and the purples in the background went magenta. I was ready to add details. Conspiracy of Ravens is quite a departure for me. One I totally enjoyed. And yes, there will no doubt be more ravens as main subjects. My day paintings usually have ravens or a murder of crows in the sky. This one doesn't. And desert scenes often have a stream in them as a prayer for water. I think the abundance of green takes that place in this composition.