Category Archives: Art debate

Emerging Artist: Paula Shubatis + How to Price Student Work

The last couple months have been a wonderful blur. We went on maternity + paternity leave and have spent some much deserved time at home with out little one. It’s an amazing adventure and it’s bittersweet to return to the real world after a long hibernation. But it feels good to be back.

One of the few trips that have led me out of the studio recently was a trip to meet Paula Shubatis, a senior at The University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. She was having trouble figuring out how to price her works. When I arrived at her studio, I was in awe of the caliber and scale of her handstretched oil paintings. Not only were they superbly executed, the content of decaying architecture and complementing organic forms required real investigation.

Sous Bois

The following are thoughts from Paula about how she found her way as an artist and painter, what her process is and how she sees her career in the future.

I’ve always been a maker.  Whether it was drawing on the walls, or making my own iteration of the Sistine chapel on the underside my mother’s mahogany coffee table, I’ve felt the constant need to make and do throughout my whole life.  But, it was not until high school that I was able to get a better technical knowledge of making through art classes.  After taking AP art in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to art school.  I came to art school under the false pretenses that I would go into something practical like graphic design, but secretly always knew that I wanted to be a painter.  Experiences with design only affirmed that I was awful at it, and it gave me great anxiety.  Through this rejection of design, I found my love of physicality of craft, in the realms of painting and fiber arts.  Once I found my genuine love and passion for making, I not only knew that I wanted to be a studio artist, but I had to be one, because I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t.  

f. The Dance of the Arcadians

“Foraging a Vernacular Identity” is inspired by my curiosity of the mysteries which lie in the ordinary places which surround me.  I have a strong fascination with how systems of math and science are at play to create the poetry of a space, but could never hope to understand them.  I find myself drawn to painting nature and architecture because of their inherent relationships to math and science.  My paintings are a series of experiments through which I break down shapes, colors and forms of spaces into modular units, and reassemble them to try to figure out how they work.   I like to manipulate different variables like scale, directionality of marks and orientation to play with how the viewer might perceive a space. I often combine different variables of multiple spaces to create one hybridized space.  This process of experimentation and analysis becomes deeply introspective, and I find that I project myself onto spaces which I paint.  I convey my own sense of a fractured reality and disjuncture with the world though a dialogue between degenerate architecture and nature.          

Painting requires one to operate within a very peculiar state of being.  It asks one to be conscious, alert, and responsive at all times, and maintain a dichotomy between an idea, and how that idea actually translates into paint.  Painting asks one to suspend disbelief, and allow one’s self to become immersed in the surface.  Immersing one’s self in a surface demands a full commitment to the surface, and coping with the inevitable possibility of failure.  The surfaces which I grapple with aren’t just fictitious worlds, but they are also my own selfish spaces where I discover and share my most intimate secrets.  It can be very difficult to reveal the truths which I find within my paintings to both the viewer and myself.  It takes just the right mix of self-doubt and brazen confidence to have both the courage and motivation to make new discoveries.  

SnaggletoothPainting will always be something, which I always do, even if I had to dig up cadmium from the earth.  I see painting as a mode of visual communication.  I hope to share this mode of visual communication with others through making and outreach as a teaching artist, and also as a gallery artist.  As long as I have the means to do these things, I will be happy.  While the life and career of a studio artist might be more turbulent than those of other professions, the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment which it gives me are well worth it.

It’s evident that Paula has a clear understanding of her work and how to talk about it, which is a great portion of an artist’s ability to sell their work. Her concern of striking a balance between asking too much and too little (since she is after all, a “student artist”) is a common one among the art school set. But here I was, staring at eight foot tall works that in any retail setting would go for tens of thousands of dollars or more and yet, I had to tell her something that would appeal to a collector, perhaps visiting the senior show with or without an intent to buy. There are two areas to consider when you’re selling your work: practical and sentimental.

The Prodigal Daughter

Practical

How much time did you spend on the piece?

How much did your materials cost?

Is this a special medium/something rarely seen?

What’s the market like in your area? (this may be a non-issue if you’re selling your work nationwide or on the internet)

Sentimental

How much are you willing to let it go for?

Are you just trying to make a first sale?

If money was not an issue, what would you pay for it?

Once you’ve considered these factors, you should have a clearer picture in your mind of what you’re willing to let a work go for. One issue that Paula brought up was her status as a student and how that may affect a buyer. There are plenty of talented graduates that go on to show and sell work immediately out of college and I don’t believe they should be shortchanged just because of their newness in the industry. That said, I encourage young artists to coin themselves “emerging” or “contemporary” to get away from the stigma of a “student artist.” Because yes, starving art students should make a dollar but it should be a fair amount that they feel is respectable.

On a side note, I want to address those that don’t want to sell. At some point, you’ll create a work and think, I’ll never produce something this good ever again. This is the best work I’ve ever done and I can’t sell it. But consider this – if you don’t sell it, then what’s the point? I see “NFS” (not for sale) on pieces at shows and that negates every reason to create work in the first place. If you document it with great photos and remember the process, believe me, you’ll create something even better in the future. Better to have a collector enjoy than to hold onto something so precious because you think you won’t obtain a higher standard of craft than where you are now. That’s silly, isn’t it?

e. Ponte d' Chaos

You may be wondering if I gave Paula a concrete set of numbers to work with. And yes, ultimately, I did. For the large ones that stood about 8 feet by 6 feet, I recommended a range of $8,000-10,000. For the smaller ones $4,000-6000. I took into account the number of hours, the polished nature of her work, the content and the overall feeling of her paintings. They’re truly monoliths, worthy of a large space such as a corporate lobby or a collector’s living room, somewhere with high ceilings. A few of Paula’s pieces will be for sale at the Senior Show coming up on April 19th and I’ll be anxious to hear the feedback she receives and give any pointers I can to facilitate selling her works.

The next post will be about how to sell the works and get publicity in the local market. Feel free to add to the conversation or post questions. We’re all in this together.

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An Incredible Photo that Made Us Stop | How to Protect Your Images

A couple weeks ago N had to deal with a snafu that the local paper here made. They ran a photo that belonged to him and subsequently had to take it down and pay him a nominal fee for usage. (It really was the right thing for them to do, after all). It really angered the both of us because it was blatantly taken and we feel they waited to see if they would be found out. This issue is not going to go away and will only proliferate in the internet age. Our working friends have had their images and design ripped off and there are many degrees of it.

Last week we came across a photo from the Herman Miller Facebook page and we were immediately drawn to the flawless execution.

Screen shot 2012-12-14 at 11.41.23 PM

A time lapse of airplanes taking off from Hannover Airport in Langenhagen, Germany was captured in layered precision. In clicking through to find out more about the photograph by Korean artist, Ho-Yeol Ryu, we saw that it originated from a link at the Tropenmuseum.

The entire image via Tropenmuseum

The entire image via Tropenmuseum

What caused us concern however, was how big the file is. It literally covered the screen of my 21″ screen and then some. I could scroll back and forth, up and down. Now, you may wonder, what is our problem with seeing something so up close and personal? Turns out that Ryu has shown through a few contemporary galleries which means that he may have a great retail and/or auction record. But any time your image is shared at such a large file size, there’s potential for your image to be taken, printed and enjoyed without your reaping the benefits of your hard work. Take our blog, for instance. We share plenty of images but our resolution is low to medium quality, generally nothing larger than 5 x 7 inches.

A detail shot of just approximately a third of the photo.

A detail shot of just approximately a third of the photo.

More image to scroll over.

More image to scroll over.

And even more still.

And even more still.

If Ryu were just up and coming and not represented and sold to collectors, I would contact him to alert him of this potentially dangerous occurrence. But with his reputation, I’ll assume that those that represent and exhibit his work are aware that of their actions and would not do anything to dilute the value of his works. What should you do to protect your images if you’re worried about them being stolen? You can control the avenues in which they’re presented and limit or deny internet exposure. Or, you can watermark them. If that inhibits the viewing experience, you can just make them small enough, as we do, so there’s no concern over them being shared.

Yes, as visual artists, we want people to see our work. We just don’t want it to hang in your living room in a massive frame unless you support us. Thanks.

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10 Questions About Art, Design and Photography That You Always Wanted to Ask but Never Thought You’d Get the Straight Answers To

1. Why does it cost so much?

The answer depends on where you’re looking at the piece you’re considering. Are you in a gallery? Consider the industry practice of 50% that goes to the dealer, the cost of framing, installation that’s sometimes taken out of the artist’s cut, sometimes the dealer covers, marketing and advertising, overhead (electric, rent, phone bill, etc). Are you at an art fair? Consider the insurance premiums, travel, hotel cost, shipping materials, gas/airfare for the artist and the blood, sweat and tears. You’re going to pay a premium but in this case, you may feel a personal connection to the artist and you have an opportunity to meet and learn about his or her work ethic, inspiration and vision. And that’s priceless.

If you’re buying a piece by a “known artist”, which I personally define as someone that has an auction record, studied in academic realms and is being shown in museums, or represented by a reputable gallery, you’re going to pay a premium because they’re sought after no matter what the subject matter, even if they’re considered a conceptual artist. Art prices driven into seven figures has to do with precedent set at auction and high end private transactions. Since auctions account for about a quarter of the art market, you can imagine how much it influences numbers.

If you’re vacationing and in a tourist gallery, you’re going to pay a premium whether the artist is known or unknown. Do not buy things based on what you’re hearing or what returns the dealer tells you are possible in the future. If you go to Hawaii and buy a $5,000 painting of a dolphin jumping out of the water, you better love the hell outta that dolphin. For a long time.

Painting by Jeff Wilkie

2. Do you shoot Canon or Nikon or something else? And does it matter?

People almost always ask this. Since its origin photography continues to be made more accessible to consumers. Does this mean there are more photographers out there? No, just more people that can take pictures. Photography literally breaks down to “light writing” meaning the ability to control or work with light to capture a scene or moment. Those that feel what you shoot with makes a difference are the same that thought Dippin Dots revolutionized ice cream. Cameras cost different prices so that camera companies can establish multiple markets. Sure, some cameras generate much larger files and/or capture repeatedly much faster than others, and if you have that need then that’s your answer, but realistically the entry level dSLR can achieve the same results, given the knowledge of controlling light.

3. Should I buy that painting?

If you love it/want to support the artist/know that you’re buying it to enjoy yourself and not impress anyone, then yes.

4. Where should I hang it?

Measure the height of the piece and make a note of the midpoint. That mark should hang 60 inches up from the floor. This is general rule of thumb and widely practiced by professionals in the field. If it’s larger than say, 20 inches in any direction, don’t hang it in a hallway where you can’t stand far away to get the full effect. Most people hang art too high and generally on a wall that’s not proportional to the piece. An 8 x 10 inch frame will look awfully lonely on a large wall by itself. A piece that size is better housed on an accent wall, nook or with other pieces around it.

Also consider humidity, how much direct sun and the amount of air conditioning that is directed at the piece. Oil paintings are extremely delicate to extreme changes in temperature and photographs should never be hung in direct sun. If you have the opportunity to, work with a professional framer so they can advise you on what kind of glass each piece should be housed under.

5. Why does the one on top cost more than the one on the bottom?

Eames Molded Plywood Chair at Design Within Reach, $840-$1,398

Plywood Lounge Chair at Totally Furniture for $122.55

In an era when upholstery was king in the household, husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames’s collaboration in answering a previous design flaw (from a competition that Charles had entered with architect and designer Eero Saarinen) resulted in the ubiquitous Eames Lounge Chair Wood or what is known in the industry as LCW. With two separate pieces and particular construction of separate molded wood and rubber mounts, the technology used to create this multi-layer chair was cutting edge at the time.

It was eventually noticed by George Nelson at Herman Miller at continues to be manufactured to their specific material and design plans today. The reason the chair on the top costs so much is because it’s a piece of art even though it’s been replicated many times. It can be resold, although some versions of LCW may resell for more than others depending on demand, quantity of that particular model and condition of each piece. On top of the quality and materials, you’re also paying a premium for the licensing namesake.

The chair on the bottom is a knock-off of the Eames LCW, looks about the same (although the variation in the plywood on the bottom is not nearly as marbled or visually interesting as the Eames), but the construction and design will not be of the same caliber. It will also not resell or appreciate over time.

6. How long should I linger at a piece when I’m at the museum?

Image via History Lines

There’s no simple answer to this but generally, I believe that most people don’t look long enough. Find the ones that speak to you and try to figure out why. What elements draw you to the piece. How do the colors make you feel? Will this stick with you after you leave? Are you intrigued to do some research about this artist after you leave? I hope these few questions may spark your viewing experience the next time you visit a museum.

7. When will it be worth more?

If you’re buying a work by a “known artist” (see #1), generally a decade will yield some sort of return higher or at least slightly higher than what you bought it for. That is, unless you overpaid for it in the first place (again, refer to #1 for a definition of where you might over pay for something). If you’ve been given a certificate of authenticity or promised it’s limited edition, I can sell you the chair I’m sitting in and give you certificate of authenticity for that too…

8. Why can’t I shoot/design/make it myself?

You can! All the credit to you if you do and do it just as well as the professionals!

9. Can I try to negotiate a lower price?

Sometimes you can. But I ask that if you’re at an art fair where you’re dealing with the artist directly, please don’t offend them. They work very hard to travel, create work, pay the booth fee, lug all their work there, sit/stand all day.  Maybe ask them to throw in a studio visit or deliver the piece if they’re local. If the piece is less than $500, I urge you not to negotiate at all. A dealer, go for it. But keep in mind they may take the loss out on the artist’s cut.

10. Who should I talk to if I want to buy art?

You should talk to us! We’ve dealt and handled everything from William Merritt Chase to Alexander Calder to Jen Stark. We’ll do the research to make sure that you’re buying what you can’t live without from a reputable source.

Photo of brokered work by Jen Stark, courtesy Carol Jazzar Gallery

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Olympics Photo Controversy: Is there such thing as “Good” and “Bad”? **With Update**

The 2012 London Olympics are just a few weeks away with trials going on now and lots of coverage on athletes and their stories. In the last couple days we couldn’t help but notice the scathing articles about photos of athletes taken by Joe Klamar. Normally a photojournalist and documentary photographer, his images are being called, “shoddy” and “amateur.” Reading through the comments, the public’s consensus is a mixed bag. Some think that there’s nothing wrong with the photos because they find the lack of Photoshop refreshing. (By the way, we don’t think the athletes need more than a blemish fixed up here and there). But others still think that he shouldn’t be called a photographer. We’ll share our thoughts in a moment. What do you think?

Here’s a typically, traditional Olympic portrait.

Photo: Dakota Earnest for Reuters

Here are Joe Klamar’s photos.

Notice how uneven the lighting is, how shadows fall starkly across faces and torsos. You can read the lines and imperfections in the back drop material. These photos were taken for the AFP and Getty, to be used for all promotional purposes in endorsing the U.S. team for the upcoming events that will be seen by millions around the world. There’s a time and place for all types of styles but the kind of harsh shadows that fall across the face and lack of even lighting not only detract from the athletes form but paint them in a negative light. Which now begs the question, did Klamar do this one purpose? Was he working on a personal agenda to document the athletes for his own purpose? And if so, why didn’t he approach the athletes separately? Or, is this sought-after photojournalist who’s on-location shots are respected, a bit lacking in knowledge of studio photography? Don’t be surprised.

There are numerous photographers, even big-name ones that don’t know how to light a subject – person or object. The assistants do all that. So it’s not that far fetched that a shooter hired by the Getty may not have on-set experience. Since Klamar hasn’t released a statement and can’t defend himself, we can only highlight the differences in how the first photo taken by Earnest reads and how his differ. We’re just a bit disappointed that the U.S. now has this story highlighting their athletes in such a negative way. The Olympics are all about strength, top sportsmanship and putting our best hand forward. This is hardly what we would see for our U.S. athletes. So now ask yourself, are these photos “good” or “bad”? Would you expect such work from a professional?

N has photographed many subjects in extreme set ups with purposeful shadows. That said, he wouldn’t have taken this opportunity to exploit his own style for such a major platform. We hope that this doesn’t mar our athlete’s perceptions of themselves on the world stage.

**Update: Last night, July 5th, ABC World News touched on this subject. There was a statement released from the agency (in this case AFP and/or Getty) saying that the proper equipment was not present and had they known that the athletes were expected to be shot, they would have prepared for it. N has traveled the world on photo shoots and there’s never been a time that there weren’t loads of equipment prepped and on hand for the situation. Even if equipment was lost in transit you have an assistant call and find all the necessary equipment – quickly.

That said, there was still use of one strobe and a backdrop, which to N, has all the makings of a pretty decent photo. Through N’s deductive and professional estimates, Klamar didn’t take advantage of the equipment available. Plain and simple. Here are two shots N took with the exact equipment available to Klamar, one strobe and a backdrop. The first exemplifies even color and light temperature. The second exudes a more stylized mood than what would be typically expected of an Olympic athlete portrait, but you can see the possibilities and how romantic a portrait can be when considerations are taken.**

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Painting Class: The Difference Between Kids and Adults

I start teaching children’s painting classes today at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. If you’re not familiar, CCS is a top-notch educational institution churning out incredibly talented artists and designers, including a huge pool of talent that’s recruited for the Big Three. The building I teach in, the Alfred Taubman Center is an impressive facility with dorms, an art supply and book store, a gym and a materials library (which I’ll be using in a few weeks when I teach fashion illustration).

One of my favorite aspects of teaching children is that there’s still time to make an impact. With adults, myself included, we’re too set in our ways. Our sense of improvement is hardly objective and is a tumultuous process. With kids and young adults, there’s still time to challenge and watch them accept new concepts. There are technical lessons I learned when I was very young that have stuck with me because I learned them the “right way” rather than trying to think I was good enough to just figure it out on my own. To my mentors and teachers, I’m terribly grateful.

Here are the five biggest differences between teaching and working with children and adults in the art studio setting.

1. Children aren’t afraid of color. Adults just think they aren’t. | The color wheel is engrained in my mind. No matter how many hues I use in my work, I’m constantly fretting over each color’s relationship to the one next to it, how it does or doesn’t activate. Kids worry about no such thing, or at least don’t tend to until their teens. They may even know that red is complementary to green on the color wheel but they don’t think twice about how to use it and what to mix with it.

2. It doesn’t have to fill up the whole canvas to be a brilliant work. | There was a news story once about a 4 year old girl who’s “paintings” were going for exorbitant amounts of money to so-called collectors. I scoffed at this idea. The parent and dealer’s (yes, you read that right) consensus was that she was an artistic genius because unlike most children her age, she filled the entire canvas with paint. Most children don’t have the attention span nor commitment to “finish” an entire plane, they said.

After long pondering, I think that’s a crock. Some of the most enthralling children’s work I’ve seen has more life than a German Expressionist painting and can be a painterly form of a singular figure. Adults finish their canvases because it’s to be expected. But rules are meant to be broken. See Dubuffet, Basquiat, Matisse…

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tenors, 1985 |  Image: Artexpertswebsite.com

Which leads us to:

3. Kids take about half the time to do the same project. Adults have more concentration. | This should come as no surprise since we learn to focus and commit as we get older. There are exceptions to this rule but children under 8 generally do not work on a project, even a large one, for more than an hour. Adults have their notions, agendas and expectations. Those take a lot longer to work out on paper.

4. Adults take better care of the materials. Kids don’t. | This is probably largely due to the fact that adults pay for their art supplies and they realize how costly creating work can be. Kids push the bristles of the brush into the paper, they don’t wash their brushes well enough, they leave their brushes face down in the water. But hey, they’re kids!

5. Children and adults are both eager to learn, but in different ways. | Turns out that’s the universal reason for being in the classroom. But kids are more inclined to appreciate the designated amount of time to create and play. Some of them truly do want to learn technical methods (especially as they get older) but adults are more adept at following direction. Even if they digress back to their old habits later on.

Adults can learn a lot from kids and vice versa. I always get a schooling from my students whether I like it or not. Wish me luck!

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