Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New paintings

Armand Cabrera

After my trip out west to the San Juan Mountains in October and lots of time in the field during November I’ve spent the last few weeks painting in the studio for my galleries in Vail CO and Pasadena, CA. These paintings are some of the studio work I've finished  from my reference of those trips. 

For me outdoor time is all about getting the mood and feeling of the place I’m in. Because I finish my sketches in one sitting my goals are different than studio work. Outdoors I don’t design too much on the fly while I paint. Instead I work to absorb as much of the experience as I can. Of course I’m also subject to weather changes and time constraints that may interrupt the process and prevent me from finishing the painting. 

I don’t mix outdoor and indoor work if I need more time for an outdoor piece I bring it back to the studio and get out a new canvas and paint it from scratch. For me this preserves the integrity of the painting process and my mood at the time I paint.

 In the studio I can be more contemplative and think about how to make the sketches into a more focused statement. I’m free to redesign elements or edit them more than I would outdoors. When I get a complete statement onsite I pass it on to my galleries otherwise they are the basis for studio work.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Setting Goals in Your Career

Armand Cabrera

I am pleased to announce I have been juried into the Illuxcon Imaginative Realism main show at the Allentown Museum for 2015. This will be my fourth time at Illuxcon and my third time as a main show artist. Illuxcon is the premiere venue for this type of art and I am honored to be in a show with such talented people.

My goal in 2011 was to start painting imaginative work again. I had been focused on traditional painting subjects since leaving full time production art in 2001. Although I still work digitally on projects for games and do some illustration, I wasn't painting it traditionally. This was unusual for me as most of my career was creating fantasy and science fiction work starting in the early 80’s until I stopped in 2001.

 I missed painting the subject matter and I was ready to jump back into imaginative stuff but wasn't sure there was a market large enough or a venue for what I wanted to do. There were people working as illustrators and production artists and selling personal work on the side but no one as far as I knew at the time was painting for themselves making a living painting like a gallery artist. I was coming at it from a gallery artist’s perspective and I wasn't sure if I could pull it off but I was going to try.

I’d heard about Illuxcon at the end of 2011. Illuxcon had been set up to showcase the best imaginative work made with traditional media. Artists were travelling from all over the world to attend the show. My goal then was to get into the main show at Illuxcon within five years and try to garner one of the coveted commissions given out every year to a handful of artists by the people in charge of the show. To do this I had to create a new body of work just to show for the Illuxcon venue.  I spent most of the year working on pieces in between my traditional landscape work for galleries and commissions.

In 2012 I grabbed a spot in the weekend salon which is the open non juried part of the show. This gave me a chance to see how the venue worked, what type of work was being shown, the quality of the work and the prices people were asking. My idea was to show imaginative work not made for any product and informed by my plein air painting and traditional gallery style. My style was a little different compared to most of the work in the show. I didn't want to change my style of painting to chase a new market; instead I wanted to see if the market would accept my genre work even though it wasn't quite what they were used to seeing stylistically. Although I had a positive response to my work at the show, I still didn't sell anything.

I thought the reason I didn't sell was price point. Even though I had established a decent price for my work in galleries only the very top people in this new market commanded those kind of prices. These people had worked to establish those prices in their market over many years of hard work. I wasn't going to be able to just come into the market at the top; I was going to have to build my presence up.  I worked even harder for 2013 including some figurative pieces of characters from fantasy books I loved. With all of my painting I wanted to continue to explore light and color in this work the way I do with my traditional work for galleries. I applied again and was juried into the main show.  I got great responses from the other artists with the new paintings but still didn't sell anything.

About a month after the show I was approached by Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire who run Illuxcon about painting one of the commissions for 2014 or later shows. We talked about size and price and settled on a fairly large piece. I decided to go with the 2014 slot so the painting would be shown the next year. Even though I hadn't sold at the show in 2013 I did get one of the commissions, so I was ahead of schedule with part of my goal but still needed to do better with sales.

I decided I would really focus on having some major imaginative paintings for 2014. I had a show coming up that May for one of my traditional galleries and I needed 15 paintings in a range of sizes for that show. I had to paint another 20 paintings for two new galleries that I had picked up. I knew I needed to have the work ready for Illuxcon 2014 by August. My plan was to have 25 new paintings, plus the 3 x 5 foot commission ready for the show. I was committing myself to more than 60 paintings in various sizes just for the shows and galleries in eight months’ time. It felt good to have these goals in place for the year.

2014 broke my dry spell and I had a good show with lots of sales at Illuxcon. I had inquiries about paintings before and after the show so I am looking forward to 2015 and building in this market and keeping this subject matter as part of my repertoire. Setting those goals a few years ago has helped me to do this. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Substance of Art

By Armand Cabrera

Can anything be more tragic than to feel the infinite beauty of your surroundings, to read natures innermost secrets and, conscious of your own helplessness, to be incapable of expressing those powerful emotions? ----- Isaac Levitan

Art is not just what we know; it is also what we feel but for it to succeed as art it must provide a shared experience to the viewer. There are many names for this idea heart, authenticity, honesty, genuineness, truthfulness, substance. Whatever your definition, good art reveals some insight about the author. There is a false dichotomy set up about this idea in the visual arts that goes something like this; facility is the enemy of substance. The more you know the less you feel.
Many times finish is confused with skill. I would say this happens as much if not more than confusing inability with insight. Real skill is ability and judgment in directing and designing all aspects of a work. Color, composition, brush calligraphy, edges, design, and subject choice.

While I would agree that adding as much detail and finish as possible to a painting doesn't add any insight, I would also argue that having no understanding about what you paint or how you do it will not add emotional content to a painting either. Accident is not intent and while randomness or even inability may be taken as intended brilliance that is a lack of keen observation from the viewer not cleverness from the maker.

In both of my examples what is lacking is intent by the originator. The inclusion of everything without an orchestrated purpose, hoping for meaning, is just as devoid of substance as the lack of skill in hope of understanding. To convey emotion and genuine sincerity it must first be understood as a goal by the creator of the work. It must then be attainable through the skill of the painter.  A painting succeeds or fails to the degree the painter lacks a specific goal or they lack the skill to attain that goal.

To convey honesty requires effort, it cannot be steeped in fad or fakery. Honesty is helped by technical ability but it isn't created by it.

There are ten thousand people in the United States who can paint and draw to beat the band. You have never heard of them and you never will. They have thoroughly mastered their craft and that is all they have—their craft… Merely knowing your craft will never be enough to make a picture… If you ever amount to anything at all, it will be because you are true to that deep desire or ideal which made you seek artistic expression in pictures. ----- Harvey Dunn

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn in the Blueridge 2014

Armand Cabrera

Over the last couple of weeks I've gone and painted up on the Blueridge Parkway or down in some of the hollows on the western edge of the Piedmont where it meets up with the eastern base of the mountains. The weather was poorest right at the peak of color but there were a few mild sunny autumn days that made everything worthwhile.  

Autumn will continue in the Piedmont for a few more weeks but most of the leaves will be gone from the upper slopes by then. I have plenty of reference for larger studio paintings and some finished pieces out on location. One of the joys painting outdoors is experiencing how different the same places and things can look year to year, month to month, day to day, hour to hour.

This time of year Shenandoah Park gets inundated with visitors coming to see the spectacular panoramas during the peak of fall color in Virginia. Normally I can drive into the park without any traffic and paint all day without ever seeing anyone, but not this time of year.  Crowds are everywhere during the week and double on the weekends. In a single day on the weekends its not unusual for me to talk to 50 to 100 people.

It reminds me of when I started painting and I was living in the Napa Valley and I became used to people talking to me while I worked. I think of it as good practice for good marketing. I've never understood people who can’t talk or are cranky to people that are curious about the painting process. While I don’t expect to sell when I go out to paint, I do sell paintings right off the easel sometimes or people stop into my local galleries to say they met me and sometimes they will purchase through the galleries. Not everyone can afford my paintings but they can afford my prints and meeting the artist can help decide a sale. Those sales wouldn't happen if I didn't talk to people when I was out painting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall color continues

Armand Cabrera

Once I caught up on laundry and correspondence after my Colorado trip I headed up to Skyline Drive to paint fall color in Virginia. The weather was a little dreary at first but the last few days have been spectacular and it looks like it will be a good year for autumn colors in the Piedmont over the next couple of weeks. I'll post more of my outdoor paintings and some process shots over the next few posts.