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When Creatives Can’t Create

Are you a creative person? And are you going through a period where no matter what you do, it just plain out sucks, or you’re totally blocked?

Well, the good news is it’s the same problem. We can fix it.

The bad news? To quote RuPaul – supermodel? You better work!

That means getting out of the daily grind and changing some things up. Yeah, you’re burning the candle at both ends. Or the opposite. Nothing is happening in your life. Either way, same result. We need to fix that.

Explore life more

I know today is crazier than it’s ever been. I get it. Looking back, I’ve never seen people around here so miserable.

When I grew up, a lot of people would smile for no reason. I almost never see people smiling nowadays. Everyone looks like they’re either stressed out or zoned out. But no smiles.

So what do I suggest? Explore. Break out of the ordinary. Do something you don’t normally do. Go somewhere you don’t normally go.

Do you have a sibling you haven’t seen in years. Why not call them up and tell them you’re coming over? Or where does your best friend live? When was the last time you saw them?

You could always plan a vacation out of the blue. Go somewhere you haven’t been to before. You’re broke? Don’t worry. Check out some places close by that you can drive to. Get a cheaper motel if you have to. Heck, you can even camp if you’re totally broke. Just get out there and do something.

Sunset in Maui
A sunset in Maui

For years, my wife and I were too broke to do anything. It took years of budgeting and aggressive investments to get us into the middle class. When we finally made it, we decided to travel.

I can’t tell you how great this has been for an inspiration. After getting back from our now yearly vacations, I have so many ideas for paintings. And so many references as well.

Don’t be afraid to get hurt

Imagine your favorite song of all-time. Now imagine if you found out that it was all a lie. That the person who wrote the song never felt anything about anything and just computer generated the words.

Imagine how betrayed you’d feel that something you were so attached to was nothing but a lie.

Now, flip this around. Imagine that your favorite ten songs of all-time were totally real. You got the backstories to all of them. Wouldn’t that make the songs way, way more genuine? For me, it definitely would!

Same with art. You need to feel. I mean, really feel.

People who feel something – it shows in their art. The art looks totally genuine. Because it’s from the soul.

That’s how you create the best art. By feeling.

Those afraid of getting hurt will never get their hearts broken. But, will they be able to create art? Sure, but not good art.

A confession

I have a confession for you. I don’t like to talk about this because it makes me a bad guy. Unfortunately, it’s true.

All artists have had their hearts broken. In my case, I was the breaker. I had a perfect girlfriend who was super nice to me and treated me great. She went through a bad time period of my life though. My band was about to breakup and I felt my life was going nowhere.

I felt like a complete loser and I took it out on her. Why? Because she was there.

Eventually, she had had enough and cut me off and I made her one last promise that I’ll never ever contact her again.

She’s been the subject of over 20 of my songs. No, no exaggeration. I’m happily married now, but when I need to write something sad, I think back of her. That was almost 30 years ago.

Another bad thing – I’ve stayed in touch with most of my friends from the past. No, not Facebook. I don’t even have that. I mean real life. And I found out a few years ago that she went through a divorce and never had any kids.

Very sad. I really was rooting for her. Rooting for her was the least I could do.

Alas, that’s what I mean about feeling something. Don’t be afraid to get hurt.

Let the creative juices flow

For a songwriter it’s easy. You just strum chords on the guitar or play some chords on the piano and sing a melody that goes with the chords. A song will come.

You know why that works? You’re literally flowing. You’re letting your creative juices flow.

Now for writers, you start writing stuff. It could be random gibberish. It doesn’t matter.

Once the words start coming from your brain onto the paper (or nowadays, computer), your creative juices will flow and you’ll create.

Now as an artist, just start drawing something. It could be a picture from your vacation. It could be anything. Doesn’t matter. Just draw.

when creatives can't create
Fixing when creatives can’t create

The ideas will come. Lucky for me, I got two beautiful models I work with. Well, technically three now that Jin came by for a solid session. But really two – Allie, the blonde, and Roxy, the brunette. Half the time, they end up selecting the poses and I draw accordingly. Those drawings transform from beautiful young ladies into mermaids, femme fatales, dryads, sirens, selkies, succubi, or whatever. Since I’m letting the creative juices flow, it just happens.

It’s all about movement, my friends. Don’t stay stagnant. Rather, you need to move.

The physical movement for the creative types will cause the creative part of the mind to move as well. You simply use your creative medium. The guitar or piano for the songwriter. The typewriter or computer for the writer. Or the pencil or paintbrush for the artist. Move those fingers!

Morning routine always helps

I’m extremely predictable. Every morning, you know as soon as I wake up, the coffee brews. It magically happens. I drink a cup and immediately do 50 push-ups, 25 body weight squats, hold a plank, then start to draw. I stretch when I remember. That’s admittedly not as often as I should.

The whole thing about drawing every morning, it really helps. If I can’t find anything to draw, I do an image search for Game of Thrones. I can always find the best images that way. Beautiful women. Dragons. Exotic landscapes.

Every morning, I get my warmup drawings in. And needless to say, I’ve improved way faster than I thought I ever would.

Same thing if you’re a musician. Start off every morning with coffee and practice. (If you don’t drink coffee, how in the world do you wake up?)

Do these four things my friends and things will just work out. A consistent morning routine. Physical movement. Feeling something for someone else. And exploration. I listed them backwards this time but the point is to remember those four magical ways to get yourself into a creative mindset.

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Most artists who fail don’t fail due to lack of talent

I know I’m going to offend a few people by writing this article. I’ve been buying art for quite awhile now and I have amassed quite a collection. Some of it is actually worth something. Some of it we bought because we just like it and want it up on our walls.

The thing is, artists are a weird lot. Most artists are just like musicians. They think they can write some songs and everyone will magically discover them.

Hate to break it to you. That’s exactly not the case. Your audience doesn’t have to look for you. Rather, you have to look for your audience. You have to do the work, not them.

Whereas Walt Disney gets all the credit since he had the big vision, he’s lucky he had his brother Roy to handle the sales, marketing, and finances. Unless you got a promoter, you’re simply going to have to do your own promotion.

I’ve seen so many artists with gobs and gobs of talent fail and quit, then go back to doing a job they hate. Meanwhile, their art collects dust and ends up in a landfill.

The hands down most naturally talented artist I’ve ever known hung himself. You’ll never know his name because he killed himself and his parents keep his art for obvious personal reasons.

Most artists who fail fear…

Most artists who fail fear the sales and marketing side of art. Or, they’re in denial that it’s important.

Once again, your audience doesn’t have to discover you. You have to discover them. It’s your job to find them, not the other way around.

most artists who fail
Most artists who fail don’t fail due to lack of talen

Of course, get really good at what you do. Don’t produce complete shit and expect it to sell like hotcakes, even if you have the best promoter in the world. It still has to ring a bell with someone. It still has to touch someone. In other words, put your best foot forward and hide your mediocre stuff.

Don’t worry, we all produce mediocre stuff. Pick your top five bands of all-time. How many of them produced excellence in every single album? Two? One? Zero?

The thing is, until you build your audience, you can’t show your mediocre stuff. More on that later though. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Talent and self-promotion

Talent refers to innate ability. Some artists have it. Some artists don’t.

That said, some artists have so much passion that they end up passing up artists who have natural talent. I’ve seen this happen in real life. There is something to be said about work ethic. If I were running a company, I’d rather hire someone with a solid work ethic. There’s a reason for that.

How does that apply to art? Well, for the artist, you have to have a bit of both. Whereas talent is innate, laziness will get you nowhere.

And that ties into self-promotion. Artists have to get over themselves. You need to realize that your artwork may be downright awesome, but if nobody knows you exist, you’re simply not going to sell your art.

That’s where self-promotion comes in. You have to figure out a way to self-promote without sounding desperate. There’s a line in there. You learn it by interacting with people. Read their faces. Are they interested or are you turning them off?

These are all things you learn with experience. Artists should know the sales and marketing side.

What are you doing for sales?

Are you selling at an art fair? Do you have a pretty nice webpage? Are you in an art gallery? Or an art auction? Do you have a distributor?

I sincerely hope you have at least one of these and whichever one or ones you pick, you’re good at. The good news is you only have to be good at one. I got a chance to attend a selling lecture from a successful artist who makes a lot of money. She has a shitty website, but her sales skills are top notch. It doesn’t matter that her website is garbage. She sells in person and shows you her value immediately.

There’s more than one way to sell your art, my friends. This is good news. Find the route you’re best at and go that route.

What are you doing for promotion?

File this one under marketing. How do people know you exist?

I’ve done sales before so I do talk to people about my art. People who matter. People with money who buy art.

Don’t waste your time with people who don’t buy art. It’s like if you write Country and Western music, don’t go to a Goth show and expect to sell your CDs. You need to go to a Country and Western club.

Today, you can promote online. You have social media. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on all of them. Find the one or two that you find actually getting results and get really good at them. There are no wrong answers. We have different personalities so what works for me might not necessarily work for you and vice versa.

I have an online store. It’s been open since January. It’s already getting some traffic because I’m currently working with two traffic coaches. Yes, not everyone can afford to do that. I get it. But you can still learn how to generate traffic through other means. You can buy books or courses. Or you can figure out how to do it yourself.

Regardless, take the marketing side seriously. Unless you have someone else handling for you.

Artists who fail don’t take sales and marketing seriously. Artists who succeed do. Be the latter.

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How to write a memorable artist statement

artist statement
How to write a memorable artist statement

If you’ve ever been to an art gallery where paintings are for sale, you more than likely saw an artist statement before. They’re the pieces of paper by the artwork that tell something about the artist and his or her intent.

Artists may ask if they really need one. They may question its relevance.

That’s totally fine. But think of it this way. How well do you know yourself? Do you know why are you an artist in the first place? And if anyone asks, how will you respond?

Think of it like an elevator speech without a 30 second time limit. You can make it as long or as short as you like.

However, not everyone who buys art wants to read a book. They’re coming for the art.

Who is it really for?

You can use your art statement to better know yourself and your purpose. You also use it to differentiate yourself from other artists when applying for a gallery.

“But my art speaks for itself.” I’m sure it does. Remember though art gallery owners are sales people. They may or may not be artists themselves. So even if it’s only a 5% importance thing, that’s still 5%. You want to create an air of professionalism and competence. At the very worst, a good artist statement will appeal to those art gallery owners. Keep reading.

“So what do I write in an artist statement?”

Make it reflect yourself. Are you whimsical? Make it whimsical. Do you love painting the Scottish lochs? Well, tell me, the buyer, why your paintings of Scottish lochs are different than your competitors.

I’ve bought a lot of art over the years. We have so much art that most of it is in storage. We will keep our favorite works and resell the rest.

Buyers buy art, and the hardcore ones often want to know something about the artist. I can tell you a lot about Olivia de Berardinis and Craig Tracy. I haven’t even met either of them.

So yes, an artist statement is important and it should be easy to find online. I had no problem finding the links for either of those two artists I just mentioned.

Make it memorable

Are you a good writer? If so, you already know how to make something memorable.

The problem is a lot of people, even damn good writers, have problems writing about themselves. They’ll expose their soul through particular characters in their fiction but when you ask them directly who they are, they often freeze.

Hot tip – if you’re one of those people who has trouble writing about yourself, then write in the third person. You’re totally allowed to do that!

Yet another reason to have an artist statement prepared.

Make it reflect yourself. If you have to, start off with a short biography. You’re divorced, remarried, and have two kids? That’s great. Put it in there. You love dogs? Well, what’s your favorite breed? Put that in there too.

You had the most romantic time of your life in Venice? That’s great. I like Venice. So does that rich old lady there who buys art. Hopefully she’ll read that line.

My son served in the military. A lot of art buyers have also served. You can bet your ass that’s in my artist statement.

Commonalities my friends. Become relatable.

Your process and your materials

You will find a lot of people find the art process fascinating. You don’t have to discuss your process. Some people love to keep how they did their works a secret. That’s perfectly fine.

But, I can guarantee you that someone will ask. You have the choice of discussing your process or keeping it a secret. Totally up to you.

If you do, make it interesting. Don’t just say “I paint with brushes I like.” Make it interesting.

Art geeks may ask which tools you use. Or even what kind of materials. You can mention that. You can even mention why you choose certain materials over others. Some people love to hear stuff like that.

As an art buyer, I hear those conversations all the time. Totally up to you though if you want your process and your materials in your artist statement.

The art

Now, talk about the art itself. That’s a pretty amazing painting of a lady’s nose. But why did you paint a lady’s nose?

You can talk about your muses. You can talk about your influences. So much could go here.

Maybe you paint because you have chronic pain and art is the only thing you can do to help you focus away from it. Tell me more.

Or maybe your past haunts you and you paint it for therapy. I met a UDT once. Very few people will know what a UDT is. Anyways, he painted islands from the air. They were awesome.

This was 30 years ago but had I met him today, I’d love to interview him and help him with his artist statement. I’m sure I could help him make it fascinating.

Memorable and relatable. You’re human. So is that guy with the big wallet who wants to buy a painting or two. Sure you have a 20 year old beat up car and he drove here in a Ferrari. But did you know his grandma was the biggest influence on his life?

You have commonalities with everyone, even if it looks like on the outside you come from different worlds.

Be yourself. I’m sure the art buyer and you have overlap. And you even have overlap with that art gallery owner who asked to look at your artist statement.


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Qualities of good pinup art

I’ve been studying what good pinup art is for awhile now. Although I’ve been studying the Pre-Raphaelite masters like John William Waterhouse lately, I’ve always been a fan of good American pinup.

American pinup artists during the so-called Golden Age of Pinups made their money in ads. The ads only had a few seconds to catch the reader’s eye. They had to really stand out.

Those ads would be called sexist today so we don’t see them anymore.

Which is sad because it hurt both the models and the artists. A lot of them were actually pretty good.

Post Golden Age, my favorites were Frank Frazetta and Olivia. I was a huge Frazetta fan. I even enjoyed that movie Fire and Ice he did with Ralph Balski.

But what makes good pinup art?

Good pinup art is of course subjective. You and I may prefer entirely different artists. And that’s perfectly ok.

But all good pinup art has most or all of these qualities.

The women are either sexy or gorgeous

A dear friend of mine years ago scolded me for calling her cute. “That’s something you say to a child.” We were dressed up to go out, and she was wearing a lovely long, black dress.

She wanted me to call her either beautiful, sexy, or gorgeous. Grown up women words. After all, she was about to turn 20. (This was decades ago).

So yes, there’s a difference between cute, beautiful, lovely, striking, sexy, and gorgeous. John Updike explained why striking is a backhanded compliment at best. You’ll never hear me call a girl I find attractive “striking.”

Now sexy or gorgeous, that’s the essence of good pinup art.

Lighthearted

Pinup art often has a bit of humor to it. It’s lighthearted. If you look at Gil Elvgrin for instance, a lot of his models get accidentally partially disrobed. It’s cute.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve worked with two models since I started painting. We’re always having a good time. The modeling sessions are never tense.

When I get a third model, she has to laugh. I don’t want a cold model with no feelings. She’s got to be human.

A celebration of femininity

In these parts, girls are taught that femininity is a weakness. That’s got to be the dumbest belief on the planet. Men have started wars over beautiful women. Femininity is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

From Elvgrin to Olivia, you could tell how much the artists absolutely love women. Frazetta loves women. He was an old school family man who died married to the same woman forever.

If you’re a misogynist, you cannot produce good pinup art. You just can’t. And yes, this includes women who secretly hate women. It will show in your art.

Seduction

Here’s a hot tip. The majority of folks who buy pinup art are either men or women who pick it up for their husbands. My wife bought me a Gil Elvgrin book back while I was still learning to draw.

The art had to catch your eye. Right away.

Since a lot of these early ones were ads, they only had a few seconds to make a man want to read them.

Frazetta’s art ended up on a lot of book covers. Sometimes men would buy the book for the cover and not even read the thing.

Olivia made a pretty good living selling her art to men’s magazines. Online killed off men’s magazines but Olivia to this day has a rabid cult following.

What do all her models have in common? They’re deeply seductive. Olivia gets it. She gets it so well that she’s famous around the world for her pinups. You’ll know her work in seconds.

That’s what I’m focusing on

You learn what works by simply looking what works. I’ll happily list my influences. Only Olivia is alive today.

Those qualities are the very qualities I emulate. I sketch with live models, then transfer my work into paint.

Both of my models are drop dead gorgeous in real life. They’re head turners. Jaw droppers. Whatever the phrase is now.

My goal is simply to produce good pinup art
My fantasy pinups range from classic silliness to downright sexy to femme fatale and you can tell I love boobs

They also know how to be sexy. But in our sessions, we’re lighthearted. When the sessions begin though, they know full well how to pose sexy.

And last but no way the least, I absolutely love femininity. I’ve always been a sucker for a beautiful girl. If you could convey that feeling into your art, you can produce good pinup art.

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How does an artist create his or her own distinctive art style?

So, how does an artist achieve his or her own distinctive art style? I actually think this is an excellent question.

As always, there’s more than one way to do it. However, this three step process is as good as any.

Know thyself

If you don’t really know yourself all the way through, then how do you expect to create art in your own distinctive art style? You need to be honest with yourself. What do you truly love? What do you truly hate?

List them both.

Also list what you like and dislike. Less strong words, but almost as important. List what you’re indifferent to.

Actually, that’s the strongest word of all – indifference. If you love my work, that’s awesome. If you hate my work with a passion, that’s almost as awesome. Seriously. I want it to generate strong feelings.

But indifference to my work? That would bum me out.

Anyways, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. How well do you know yourself?

Also, let’s include the love of your life. Let’s include the one who got away. Remember family members who you’re BFFs with. What do you love about them the most?

Also the ones who drive you nuts. Why do they drive you nuts?

Know what you’ve done, what you won’t do, what you’ll no longer do, and what you really want to do.

I’m sure you can add a lot to this list. This is by no means complete. If you feel that you don’t know yourself enough, you need to spend more time introspectively.

Steal

There’s an old saying that the good artists borrow, the great artists steal. Know what you like. And practice it without shame.

Of course, you’ll have to know copyright laws. I’m only talking about for practice. For reals, when you’re selling your work, it has to be an original piece.

you can see that I have already created my own distinctive art style
You could tell I’ve spent way too much time in art galleries

However, my original pieces have stolen from so many different artists that they look like they’re entirely original. You catch my drift?

Steal profusely, so much that nobody can tell you’ve stolen from anyone. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the more artists you steal from, the more unique your work will start to appear.

This is especially true in music. You could tell when someone has a million influences. They sound original. Weird how it works, but that’s how it works.

Theme your entire life

You’ll get called weird by some and interesting by others. But who cares? Ignore that first set. Focus on the second set as those will be the ones who will be buying your art anyways.

Get so into your theme that you theme your entire life. The way you act. The way you dress. Decorate your whole house in your theme. Everything – do it in your theme.

The artwork will flow like a big ass river. You’ll be called obsessed. Good. Best possible compliment for an artist.

Beethoven was obsessed. So was Michelangelo. All the great ones were.

So know yourself. Steal. And theme your entire life. Do those three things and I can assure you, you’ll start to develop your own individual style. Oh and also one more – work your ass off.

Why this matters

So the artist asks why. That’s the question the artist should always ask!

We’re art buyers. We’ve bought over six figures of art so far, from galleries, from auctions, and even straight from the artists. We can tell you which artists make it and which ones don’t.

Most get lost in the crowd. You know who doesn’t? The ones who paint from their souls, because everyone’s soul is unique. And that requires developing your own distinctive art style.

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Just keep producing art

I just wrote about the mindset of an artist, which is the difference between the artist who “makes it” versus the artist who doesn’t. This is sort of part II of that.

Some people think there’s something special about producing art. Or the artist is born with some supernatural talent. No, that’s all bullshit.

The difference between the artist who makes it and the artist who doesn’t is the former keeps going whereas the latter quits. The former realizes that he has to keep producing art to get better.

That artist keeps learning and keeps honing his craft. He’s continually trying out new things. You’ll see it in his art. You’ll see the constant experimentation and the constant pushing of boundaries.

Keep producing art and at worst, you’ll have something to write home about

That’s the thing right there. If you keep producing art, at the very worst, you’ll have something to write home about. At the very best, you’ll become a household name.

I’ve lived long enough to see people’s careers take off. Some take off faster than others. Some take longer. Regardless, nobody ever remembers the one who quit.

I can see an improvement from my earlier paintings to my newer ones. The more experimenting you do, the more chances you take, the more you’ll improve. That’s how it works. You have to keep taking chances. You have to keep doing experimenting.

After awhile, your style will develop to the point that it looks like your work. Not someone else’s. But your work.

I know the exact point I reached that step. That’s when I realized I had to sell it.

And not ironically, I had my first commission. When you start calling yourself an artist, and say it with a straight face, that’s when you become the artist.

Experimenting

I’m always trying something new. I’ve been in dozens of caves before, yet never painted one.

Recently, I’ve been getting into dream sequences. That started when I painted a real life dream. I immediately called Allie and asked for a quick modeling session. She did some Marilyn Monroe poses and I got several paintings out of this quick session.

I’m still in my dream phase. Going back to the cave, I decided to stick a cave somewhere in this girl with a fairy painting.

keep producing art
Working on another dreamlike painting

So the cave has a stream coming out of it. To the left, you’ll see a girl talking to a fairy. Once again, we’ll see the same moon that keeps coming back.

Since it’s dreamlike, I’m intentionally working with a limited color palette. Except for the girl and the fairy. They’re in full color. That trick makes them both pop out and everything else gets pushed back.

Learn by accident

If you keep producing art, you’ll end up learning things by complete accident. For instance, this dual chromatic dream concept. I’m only using two colors – black gouache and Daniel Smith Moonglow watercolor. (Except of course for the girl, the fairy, and the moon).

If you keep producing art, you’ll get the same results. You’ll learn a lot of things by complete accident. You’ll have your “a-ha!” moments where you discover really cool things.

I cannot stress enough that experience trumps talent. That’s why when companies hire, they look for experience. You learn on the job. The same concept applies for art. You learn by doing.

You could take all the classes in the world. But nothing beats real life experience.

The obsessed artist

When you’ve been in this world long enough, you’ll meet this artist. He’s not necessarily more talented than his competition. But he’s nucking futs!

He’s working while everyone else is partying. He’s working while everyone else is sleeping.

Years later, he’s selling paintings for a lot of money. How did this happen?

Put two and two together.

A few who made it

Over the years, my wife and I have bought a lot of art. We’ve bought art from art galleries, from auctions, from street fairs, and from the actual artists. We’ve met a few artists who actually make a pretty good living doing their art.

It’s funny because I was surprised that one successful artist we met, I won’t say her name, has a shitty website. But, that’s not how she operates. She’s a crazy hard working woman in real life who puts lots and lots of miles on her vehicle and aggressively goes from place to place to plant her art everywhere she can.

She’s just not an online person. She sells in person. Yet, she’s a damn good saleswoman, despite her weak online presence.

You have to be one or the other. Or of course both. But if you’re going to make it as an artist, you’re simply going to have to go farther than your competition.


Links to products used:

Daniel Smith Moonglow

M Graham Gouache set

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is as absolutely no cost to you, and helps keep my bills paid. I will never recommend a product that I do not use myself.

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Mindset of an artist

Back when I was in my previous band, we had a bass player try out. Super nice guy. We’ll call him Jim.

Anyways, Jim had the absolute best equipment on the planet. So good in fact that if the Rolling Stones’ trailer that carried their bass equipment got lost or stolen, they could have asked to borrow Jim’s equipment. Yup, absolutely top of the line gear.

But, when we asked Jim which covers he knew so we could jam with him, he didn’t know a single one all the way through. You can’t exactly jam partial songs.

Needless to say, Jim didn’t make the band. Like I said, super nice guy though. Had a beer with him. But we didn’t hire him as our bass player.

“What does this have to do with art?”

What does this have to do with art? Everything. Same concept.

You could have the best paint brushes on the planet. You could have the best paints on the planet. All the right gear. A gold plated easel made of the best wood. But if you can’t paint, you can’t paint.

That’s why I strongly suggest that if you’re limited on funds, buy the bare minimum amount of paints and take a lesson or two. It’s more important that you actually know what you’re doing with crappy gear, then having the best gear on the planet and can’t paint.

In fact, there’s a guy who I follow on YouTube that doesn’t even use high end paints. Yet, he’s a big influence on me. I’ve borrowed a technique or two from him. (More like three or four).

If we’re talking watercolors, I suggest buying good paper and decent paint rather than the other way around. I couldn’t tell you the game plan for oils or acrylics though. I can however tell you that you’re better off taking some lessons than buying the top of the line gear.

Get into the mindset of an artist

If you want to really get into the mindset of an artist, first, you have to call yourself one. If you’re still paying the bills as an accountant, but your heart is really oil painting, then when someone asks you what you do, say “artist.” Sure, it doesn’t pay the bills yet, but you have to start believing you’re an artist before you become one. And for Pete’s sake, start calling yourself an artist!

After convincing yourself that you’re an artist, you have to do the work. That means every day, you’re practicing.

My personal work is as a fantasy pinup artist. To keep my skills sharp, I’m sketching a live model at least once a week. I’m constantly working with either Allie or Roxy, despite being at the point where I can sketch a nude woman in five minutes flat.

That doesn’t mean I should ever let my guard down. The best sports teams decline when they start becoming overconfident. They think that nobody can beat them so they start to slack.

The same concept applies to art. You always have to be pushing yourself. Nobody knows every art technique on the planet. You can always hone your skills. There’s always room for improvement. Always.

Every modeling session, I’m getting a fraction of a percent better. That doesn’t seem like much to outsiders but I know how important it is to improve every single week. I have to stay hungry. Even when I sell my first seven figure painting, I’m not going to slack.

Sports analogies

I love sports analogies because most people know at least one sport. They make for great analogies.

I worked with a guy who worked a Los Angeles Stop and Rob that two Hall of Fame baseball players used to frequent. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance here. I could name every top 20 fantasy football player, but I simply don’t know baseball at all.

If you’ve played baseball though, you’ll know their names. They grew up in the Los Angeles area.

Anyways, he’d tell me that every single day, they’d practice together. One day, the guy I worked with asked “are you guys any good?” They looked at each other and smiled and one of them said “yeah, I guess we’re pretty good.”

The guy I worked with explained their hunger. It was on a whole different level.

Hunger. A chip on your shoulder. Something to prove. All those things are good things. If you’re doing it for fun, more power to you. But the ones who will make it will take every hate message, every failure, every person who tells them to quit, and use it for fuel.

Do you think anyone ever told those two baseball players that they should get real jobs? By the way, they’re both Hall of Famers today.

Offended by everything

Of course, you can use this mindset for anything. But we’re specifically talking art. You and I are artists. That’s the aspect of our lives we want to improve.

Also I wanted to add, I think one reason why artists struggle is that most of today’s artists are very thin-skinned. I’ve never seen a generation as thin-skinned as my son’s generation. I intentionally raised him not to be, but I see his peers.

You’re going to have your haters, especially once you get your work really out there. You can’t just quit because someone makes fun of your work.

I’ve already had one feminazi call my art “porn.” Rather than getting offended, I’m using that as a marketing tool.

Be hungry

Also, if you go into this thinking it will be fun and have a laissez-faire attitude with it, you more than likely won’t make it. But if you’re absolutely convinced that you’re not only going to make it, you’re absolutely obsessed with it and it’s all you can think of – yeah, I’ll buy your paintings and hold them until they go up 10 times in value.

Keep busting ass, my friend. Don’t ever let your guard down. There’s always some aspect of your artistic resume that you can improve.

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25 inspirations for the uninspired

We’ve all had those days whether you’re a writer, a composer, or an artist. You sit down. You got work to do. And nothing comes.

The muse has left the building and you’re badly trying to summon her back.

Well, my friend, fret not. What you need is a list.

This list will work for you whether you’re trying to compose that song that will make you famous or you’re working on the Great American Novel.

How to use this list

Here’s the trick. Actually take a pen and paper and write down the answers.

Every lyric you have, every word you write, every painting you paint, it all comes from your head. When you are uninspired, the problem revolves around the lack of communication between your brain and your medium. Your hands are the in between and once you start getting ideas to go to your hands, your inspiration will come right back.

Sound crazy? Actually, it’s not. It’s a mental block.

Try it. It’s a brain trick I’ve learned over the years. I guarantee it will work.


1.  Who is the love of your life?
2.  Who is the one that got away?
3.  Who hurt you the most?
4.  Who did you hurt the most?
5.  What did you want to be when you grew up?
6.  Who was your idol as a kid?
7.  Who was your idol as a teen?
8.  Who was your first crush?
9.  Who was your first kiss?
10.  Where were you when you had your first kiss?
11.  What was the most painful argument you’ve ever been in?
12.  Did it resolve?
13.  If it resolved, how? If not, why not?
14.  Who is the person who has passed on that you miss the most?
15.  What would you tell them if you’re allowed one more day with them?
16.  Where would you take them?
17.  Why is that place so meaningful to you?
18.  Whether or not you’re married, describe your dream wedding?
19.  Who will you want to be there?
20.  Who do you not want to be there?
21.  What happens to us after we die?
22.  Why is your best friend your best friend?
23.  What is something your best friend knows that nobody else knows?
24.  If you have unlimited money, describe your dream vacation
25.  If you have unlimited money, describe your dream home

Did you notice something about this list? It’s not a simple yes or no list. I made your brain wake up.

Now, you’re ready to write, paint, or compose the next big hit!

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Music to paint to

music to paint to

What music do you paint to? And does music help set the mood for your painting?

Since I’m doing more fantasy pinup art, I like music that helps the setting.

I have eclectic tastes. They range from pretty heavy to pretty deep. But a lot of my music totally fits my paintings’ themes.

Heavy Metal is great music to paint to

“What? You paint to Heavy Metal?”

Of course I paint to Heavy Metal. What other genre even touches fantasy a fraction of what Metal does?

I paint a lot of fantasy femme fatales. Metal music totally fits the attitude that these bad girls have.

From the Golden Age of Metal, I love Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. Recently, I like HIM, High on Fire, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Nightwish.

All these bands have both lyrics and attitudes that totally fit my bad girls.

Non-Metal music that I love to paint to

Sometimes, I need something softer. For those moods, Loreena McKinnett, Blackmore’s Night, Enya, and random Celtic stations from the Internet radio do wonders for my paintings.

McKinnett and Blackmore’s Night especially. Their lyrics and moods are totally fantasy. For painting background music, they’re downright awesome.

Celtic music is great music! It’s just so alive. So real.

For random background music, I’ll take Celtic music above anything else. I’ve bought CDs from live Celtic acts we’ve seen anywhere from Celtic pubs to farmers’ markets. I don’t have a drop of Irish blood. But I sure love their music. (And their women!)

Classical music

And of course Classical music. Except I’m quite particular when it comes to Classical. I love the Romantic era. If you’re wondering who they are – Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc.

They all had themes and sometimes even the characters that I paint. I would have loved to have been alive back then and heard that music while the composers were still alive. Imagine being alive to see your heroes actually conducting their own music!

So what about you?

What do you paint to? Does your music fit your painting? Why or why not? And, does it make a difference?

Photo credits

Loreena McKennitt – performing at the InterCeltic Festival at Lorient, Brittany in August 2008. Photographed by Maelor
Blackmore’s Night – live at the Tarrytown Music Hall, October 2012. Photographed by Nsoveiko
Beethoven – Painting by Mähler, 1815
Judas Priest – Live in 2005 Moline, Illinois. Photograph by Zach Petersen
Tchaikovsky painted by Nikolai Dimitriyevich Kuznetsov

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Sometimes our modeling sessions are random…

And sometimes our modeling sessions are planned.

Allie and Roxy have both been with me since the beginning. They’re both very different models.

The funny thing is, neither of them started off as models. It just happened that way.

I’m in fact the only person they model for. We’re friends that turned into models.

Both love modeling

Despite what some people tell you, women love to feel beautiful. It’s a great feeling. Just like a man likes to feel manly. If he’s not strong, there are other ways to be manly. Like building a successful business for instance. Or writing the Great American Novel. What could be manlier than writing a novel under the influence of copious amounts of Scotch and tobacco that generations later still gets assigned in college?

There are moments when we’re in a zone. Where the modeling sessions turn out perfect. Where I can get three or four worthy paintings from one session.

It’s a great feeling indeed. We both know it. We both can feel it. It would be the equivalent of when a band executes a song in the studio and they know that that’s the one.

Allie from one of the more random modeling sessions
I turned this pose into a mermaid

Allie warmed up to modeling faster. When Roxy did, she really did. But she didn’t warm up as fast as Allie did.

Almost all my paintings though are of Allie because Roxy’s hard to get a hold of. I don’t take it personally. That’s just how she is. If you knew her personally, you’ll understand.

Allie’s very dependable. And predictable. She’d probably make a kick ass accountant.

Sometimes I have an inspiration

Sometimes before the modeling session, I’ll have an idea where we want to go. Like the upcoming one with Allie, we already planned witches. She’ll have evil faces and evil gestures prepared.

I’ve got my evil witches and their evil familiars series started already. I just finished the second painting. But I need two more.

The imp was the easiest one to do. So many ways to draw an imp. For this one, the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz were my inspiration. I remember seeing those as a kid and they scared the hell out of me.

What a thing to be scared of! Evil flying monkeys? Yeah, they scared me big time.

For the second painting, I did the evil witch and her nightmare familiar. I painted her with red hair. She looks more creepy than beautiful, which is great! It’s good to mix things up. I’ve done straight beautiful for too long.

Quick background – the evil witch with a nightmare familiar is the worst in combat. They attack you in your dreams. Not directly.

Special moments

The very last time I saw Roxy, she was really getting into her poses. I got some spectacular sketches from that session that I’ll turn into paintings later.

It was a special moment. There I was with pencil in hand and she was in front of me, fully nude except for her jewelry. Roxy loves her jewelry.

It felt so right. Every pose she did looked cute.

She has a huge smile with each one. She may have even laughed a little.

It’s hard to get Roxy to laugh. It’s hard enough to get her to smile. Roxy’s a totally different kind of girl. More serious, straight up.

When I said Allie would be a good accountant, I didn’t mean the boring ass accountant stereotype who never leaves the house and just crunches numbers. I’m talking more about responsibility, dependability, and memory, who will every once in awhile let loose big time. Allie has all in boatloads.

femme fatale castle on fire
Femme Fatale burning down the castle

Roxy though is so different. There’s a sadness to her, which I secretly find intriguing. I hope she’s not reading this and mad at me. But I promised I’d never use her full name anyways. It’s not like there’s only one Roxy in America who’s a brunette with long hair and a killer body.

I do miss that girl big time. She sent me a text last week that she misses me. But no word when we’re going to get together next.

That’s her to a T. Uncertainty ought to be her middle name.

That may be why I treasure time with her so much. I see her so rarely.

I don’t show my sketches

My sketchbook is mostly notes. I never learned to shade correctly. My shading almost looks childish.

When I actually paint, I keep the sketch by my side when I’m painting so I can see where to put the shadowing. I also note where and how the muscles move. And where I can see traces of bones and tendons through the skin.

My painting is better than my sketching. My outlines however look pretty good. I’ll share those. But you don’t get to see my shading techniques until they’re translated into paint.