Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Different Reason to Make an Art Portfolio

At the risk of sounding like the little old lady talking about walking miles in the snow to school, I am going to share with you a bit of what it was like to be an artist in the 'golden era' of the 1990s. It flat-out flabbergasts me to think how much has changed in just a few decades; in fact, I do not think I exaggerate when I state that the art world is unrecognizable to what I knew back then, young whippersnapper.

Of course, the primary difference is the advance of computer technology. The 1990s were before digital cameras, before smart-phones, and the internet was mostly for computer-science majors. That meant that art works had to be photographed and converted into slides for gallery directors to pop into a slide projector and view. That meant that you needed photographic lights, a good camera, film, and you would have to drop that film off at a place that would develop it. You kept your fingers crossed the whole time praying that the slides would come out well, because it was impossible to know until after they were developed. More than once, I brought home an entire role of dark, blurry slides--this was not uncommon, and I still had to pay for them.

Not only that, but your cover letter, artist statement, resume, and brief biography all had to be typed on a type-writer on paper. This was the time of eraser ribbons and the intoxicating scent of white-out. If you were one of those cutting-edge folks, you might have a word processor, a gadget that was a glorified
state of the art word processor
typewriter-computer-wannabe. The cost of postage for sending out these bundles, that consisted of all this paper (of course everything was only printed on one side), slide sheets, some sort of note-binder and a manila envelope with return postage, was a small king's ransom. Put it this way, I spent almost as much trying to promote my work as I did framing my paintings, and I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars framing my work. I kid you not when I say that we ate bargain basement macaroni and cheese for many a dinner, just to get my art some exposure. Add to this the fact that almost every persnickety art director demanded that slides be labelled precisely to his or her specifications, and well, that meant that not only was I throwing bags of money at these things, I was also spending hours in the depths of tedium hand-writing inch-long labels that had to be exactly just so.  You expected to wait months for a response, and often, it was touch-and-go whether your materials would be returned. A rejection letter hit so hard back then, because it not only was a rejection of one's work, it was the evidence that so much time, late-nights, and resources had just gone gurgling down the drain.

For some years, I was working so hard on portfolios that I decided what the heck, I might as well see if I could make this a business in itself. Italics, which is still the name of my formal URL address for Loud Colors Studio, was born because I realized that I wasn't the only one struggling with writing all of these materials and putting together these infernal packets. And I felt that I must have figured something out along the way, since all of my toil in the salt-mines of promotion had led to steady representation in three regional galleries, and show acceptances around the nation. I greatly enjoyed helping clients reach their goals, and the earnings were nice, but it would take some sort of SuperArtist to balance all of these demands with my own studio work, and well, I found out I wasn't that super.

It's so different today. I have been out of the conventional art world for many years now--by my own choice. But one of the last formal museum shows I participated in was arranged with one email and a couple of attached jpegs. It quite literally took minutes, and I didn't spend a dime. Artists now exhibit their art on their own websites, snap dazzling images of their work on digital cameras, and are able to send pictures of their latest creations to everyone on their mailing list with a click of a button.

Ironically enough, a portfolio is much more important to me now than it was in those heavy-duty 'marketing' years. Now, I'm thinking in terms of keeping records of my work, of somehow preserving images of all of my pieces in an easily handled format. Many of them have sold over the years and I want some way to remember them, as well. It kind of saddens me a bit, that we are not taught this principle in our art classes. A portfolio has so much anxiety swirling around it; we are taught that it is a vehicle to impress others, but we don't stop and ask ourselves if we could also use it as a record, a history of where we are now, and how far we have come.  We don't think of it as a diary, a gift to ourselves.

It took me nearly a decade to get my website at www.italics.us where it is now. Most of the time spent was in learning how to actually write webcode; I wanted to know every aspect of how to run my site, and I completely geeked out. I love computer languages, but I must admit I have to study hard--they do not come naturally. But another huge chunk of time was taken because I kept completely building the site only to completely tear it down and redo it again from the ground up. Improvement is a good thing, but I was thinking too much about impressing that invisible critic 'out there', that ghost from galleries past. I was too self-conscious, and no actor is really any good if he can't forget his audience. It wasn't until I decided to think of this website as a legacy, as a statement of what I valued and what I achieved---that things finally started to come together in a lasting, satisfying way.

I am considering some possibilities in showing my work 'out there' again someday, but I know that I if I decide to go through with those ideas, I will never consider my portfolio in quite the same way. Maybe it's because I am an older lady who's grown a bit cantankerous, but I don't think my portfolio will ever again be a vehicle to get some art director to please, please, please like me or my work. It will never be put together in that spirit again. The days of twisting myself into a pretzel, hoping to get outside approval are over. It doesn't mean that I intend to be all arrogant and 'all that', expecting them to just fall all over themselves because I have asked them to view my work. No, it's more that I just want to use my portfolio as a straight-forward tool that says, "This is who I am. This is what I stand for. Maybe you'll resonate with it; maybe you won't. Thank you for looking." I plan to use this amazing technology to categorize, depict, and explain my work, to continue to expand out into a larger audience, if that is possible. There are scary consequences, however, to having everything just in a digital format, and I am also thinking that I will build something from really good quality photographs, and yes--more paper. My portfolio is something I hope will outlast me long after I am gone.

I guess what I am saying, is honor yourself as an artist. Honor your history, your future, the self that is you that is a creator. Yes, if it is a marketing tool that you are going to send around to venues, a portfolio should be somewhat edited and probably just include samples of your best work. And a smaller, more portable version can be created for that purpose. But a portfolio can also be enlarged, using a website, for example, to be more of an archive, an autobiography of your process. Make your portfolio for you, in the long run.

I love to follow Stefan Baumann on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo1OiRSBW4drYnsakd68uig.  Although we differ radically in our aesthetic passions and even some of our views, he is a fabulous art instructor and working artist, who knows how to address the heart of an artist. One thing he frequently says is that when an artist passes away, it is not the china or the jewelry that the kids fight over. No, suddenly family who had not real interest or understanding in what the artist was doing, desperately want one of their artworks. They even fight over them. They want them because the art is ultimately the most unique expression from that person. Suddenly they recognize the artwork's intrinsic personal value--value and meaning that go far beyond fame or fortune.

 A portfolio is a symbol of a life well and deeply lived.  Treat it--and yourself--with a vision that extends far beyond the next 'call for artists'.    




Monday, March 26, 2018

Technique--Art on the Edge, Part Two

In this post, as promised, I would like to talk a little bit about how I get line quality in my work. As I may have touched on in my previous post, I am completely and utterly infatuated with what line can do. This is totally a personal preference. I know one artist for instance, who absolutely abhors lines and doesn't think his work is done unless each and every delineation is gone. He likes a much softer, tone next to tone approach. 

I think I'll start with one of my more recent paintings, from 2017. This piece is called "Sarah and Isaac", and is part of a series where I am depicting in new ways the lives of women in the Bible. I actually intended a more realistic look, but sometimes paintings have a life of their own, and this one was certainly opinionated.  :)  There is a feeling of a religious icon here, and it was sorely tempting to thickly outline everything--like in a stained glass window-- but then I knew it would be too much. I wanted to aim for a semi-modern art graphic effect, and still retain somewhat of a 'classical' feel at the same time. It was a tough balancing act.

The outline around Sarah's head was what I like to call a 'happy accident', a term I've co-opted from my favorite art professor in days of old. It was made by having a much lighter background color surrounding her head first, and then, over time as the piece progressed, laying in new colors, and leaving just that hint of the old color. I believe that many subtle effects are made this way, by blocking color around an object, and then layering a new color--but leaving an outline of the previous. I hope this makes sense...if not, I will go into this further in the future, maybe show you a step by step demonstration. Thicker, more visible lines were used to accentuate parts of her outer form, with a line on only sections of Isaac's arm and overalls. The figures in the field, representing the family lineage (no pun intended) of souls that are not born yet, were outlined a bit more heavily, to give them 'punch' from their vividly colored background. It made me SO nervous to add that little bit of black contour to the bottom of the clouds, but I feel it helped them to come forward a bit. I think the most important lesson here: line does not have to be everywhere, and sometimes less is more.

'Sarah and Isaac', Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2017
This next work is part of my 'Hats' series, a collection of practice studies examining the texture of fabrics. I wanted to play with the concept of netting on an old-fashioned hat. Here again, in order to get the variety of lines (and shapes) I wanted, I painted the folds a darker color and revisited them again with dots of whites. Again, I have to emphasize, I did not make these lines by using a thin brush. I created shapes of darker color, then went in with lighter. One can make incredibly thin, lyrical lines this way. I have to admit that I particularly like the thick line originating at the top, contrasting with the clean sweep of a single line at the bottom left, where the netting falls over the hat.

'Roberta', Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2017

'Turtleneck Boys', Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2017

In 'Turtleneck Boys', the painting above, lines are thick and choppy, to convey a sense of discord, disturbance, even menace.
Celtic Goddess, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2003

This is a pencil drawing done way back when. This time I used a very, very sharp pencil for my contours, barely touching the surface in some parts. It gives a rather ghostly effect.

Lines have an emotional effect on us. When you think about it, the whole process of reading a book is interpreting tiny lines in print. And in a painting, lines establish style and accent.  When you draw a line, ask yourself, what is the mood I am trying to convey? There's so much that just that simple line can say--about you and the work.

Technique--Art Has Always Lived on the Edge

There is something, in my opinion, about the power of a strong edge in a painting. When I see a lyrical, powerful line in an artwork, I am reminded of an ice-skater effortlessly, yet powerfully gliding, making curling and curving impressions into ice. Sometimes, a line can make me think of a jazz solo, where a saxophone's melody line is swooping and swinging in the air. Lines can create contained passages in a work, but they also can speak and express in a non-verbal way. A distinct thick line can emphasize, or make something look strong or severe---but a thin, faint line can bring out the delicacy of a whisper, a web, or the most unspoken of thoughts. Line is poetry.

Sandro Botticelli, 'Primavera' c. 1482

At right is the classic example, shown in art classes around the world, of what I am talking about. In this Renaissance wonder by Botticelli, line moves like rippling water, swirling in and out in fragile white lines from the bodies of these lovely nymphs. But look, too, at the how the lines never break, how they contour around each lady's arms, how lines demarcate the curls in their hair. We can feel the veiling surrounding their forms; it is so soft we can almost crush it in our hands, and yet the softness is emphasized even more by the hard, hard edge of white against the dark background. Although we can no longer see an actual line here, this is perhaps the most dramatic line of all...where light meets dark. Can you see the music, the rhythm in those lines? I hear a violin when I see this painting.

Vincent Van Gogh, 'Self-Portrait' c. 1889


We couldn't talk about line without including Vincent Van Gogh. I look at this man's works over and over, marveling how masterfully he came to understand, through years and years of trial and error, how line is not only the building blocks of what we see, but it is also the emotion. Of course, the background, the folds in his coat, even his hair are all those thicker, passionate lines we have come to associate with Van Gogh's work. But look at the sweetly curving single line, in a subtle green tone, that outlines his brow and cheekbone. Also, those little bits inside his ear, that are all different colors. Amazing, and it is these elements, so easily overlooked, that hit our subconscious and blow our minds about his work.

Eduoard Manet, Railway, c. 1873
Manet is truly one of my favorites among the Impressionists. He is like a magician, master of the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't disappearing line. Look at the thick line that delineates the woman's arm from the back of her dress, and contrast that with the line, dainty as a fairy-tale that so subtly wraps around the little girl's arm, cheek, and the back of her neck. This line disappears at the lightest part of her arm, and it almost gives a visceral sense of the afternoon sunshine. Line meanders in and out of the lace at her sleeve, counterbalanced by the line on the woman's face. There is a coolness, a calmness to Manet's work, I believe brought about by his tremendous dexterity with line.

Although I am certainly not in the class of these artists, I have been told over the years that line is one of my strengths as a painter. In the next blog post, I will show how I do it in some of my own work.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

one brush stroke at a time

I began making art professionally in 1993, and I figure after 25 years (whoa!) of sitting quietly in front of an easel, I've taken a very long and loudly colored journey.  I've made hundreds of paintings, some taking months and even years to complete. I've sold a whole lot of work, and although I will never claim to be rich and famous, I know deep down without any real need for outside validation, that I am indeed very good at what I do and living exactly how I am supposed to live. This has been learned the hard way--by staggering down every wrong path until I finally stumbled onto where I belong again.

I've sipped my full share of cheap white wine at art receptions and I've seen people weep, expressing that my work touched a deep place inside them.  I've also had people earnestly seek me out to tell me how much they loathe what I do. A whole stack of my paintings are in the hands of collectors all over the United States, and a few have found their way to Australia, Canada, and even Switzerland.  And back in the day, when I was still in the conventional art system, I had piles of rejection letters, so many that I glued some of them to stretched canvas, and used them as background texture for my painting. 

I've got a lot to say, and although I hardly think my life is some sort of 'how to make it as an artist' textbook, I do think that perhaps I do have some insights on how to be a practical dreamer, on how to keep something very special given to you by the Creator alive and well in a world that would like nothing more than to stomp it out.

Topics on this blog will be in four categories: technical hints on painting, the everyday challenges of the artist, a bit of marketing, and the inspiration that can be drawn from the quotes of great artists that came before us.

I will have a new post out the last week of every month. (And if you might happen to be interested in my other great passion, which is homemaking, that blog can be found at: Ellen's Almanac.

This blog can be found at:

Right here, at Little Bits of Loudness, the blog.

Or, at  my newly revised website at Loud Colors, the art of Cory Jaeger Kenat. I am so proud of this website. I wrote every line of code myself, and the archive section really gives an overview of my career and process.

Or on my Loud Colors Facebook Page