Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unfinished business

A few blogs ago, I mentioned I found a dozen unfinished pieces of art as I was cleaning and reorganizing my studio. Well, I’ve done some more cleaning and in the sprit of accuracy and full disclosure, I need to make a correction to that figure. There aren’t a dozen unfinished pieces. There are SIXTEEN!

Holy Cow! Shame on me! How does this happen? Is it a result of my propensity toward procrastination? I don’t think so. That usually indicates a tendency to put things off and delay starting a new project. In this case, it’s not that I didn’t start any paintings. I just didn’t finish them all.

If I ask my wife why it is that I have so many unfinished pieces, she will probably advise me to get up out of my easy chair and STOP. WATCHING. FOOTBALL. Of late, my love of all things football has kept me glued to the television each Sunday and Monday. But, realistically, football shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. The regular season lasts only 16 weeks, and seldom do the Vikings go to the post season. I do watch playoffs but not with such intensity and enthusiasm once my team is out of the race. Besides that, a reasonable person might ask what I was doing the rest of the week (Tuesday through Saturday) during the football season?

Procrastination. Excuses. Did you know that there are 27,916 results at when searching for books about procrastination? You didn’t? Not to mention (ok, I will) 14,633 results for “getting things done.” For crying out loud, there are entire websites dedicated to excuses to skip work! Perhaps if I hadn’t spent this time searching the web I might have had a few additional minutes to put brush to canvas! I think Ben Franklin said it best: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

With ol’ Ben in mind, I’ve now started the ball rolling to finish what I’ve begun. Or, at least to make conscious choices about these 15 pieces that will decide their fate. (And, I don’t mean that I will simply move them to another room!) This past weekend:

  1. I made a list of all 16 unfinished pieces and hung it on the wall in plain site.

  2. I carefully examined the condition of each canvas and concluded that 2 needed to be restretched and restarted. And then there were 14. (You see, that decision catapulted these two into a different category: New Art.)

  3. One more bit the dust when I looked it over and asked myself, “Why in the world did I do this one?” I threw it away. And then there were 13.

  4. I finished 2 pieces. And now there are 11.

Wow! That’s 32% of my unfinished art taken care of in one weekend. At this pace, the remaining pieces will be dealt with in no time at all.

Focus, Dennis. Focus.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Put a puppy in it

Everyone who paints has identified at least one favorite artist that he or she admires. We have either followed their careers, have observed and learned from their style and technique, or simply love their work and are excited to study their paintings whenever we can. One of my favorites, and I’m sure the one I have admired the longest, is Norman Rockwell.

Nearly everyone recognizes his name, but if you don’t immediately remember his work, you will when you see one of his pieces. He was an extremely popular illustrator in the early 1900’s and continued painting until he died in 1978, at the age of 84. He actually had an unfinished painting on his easel when he died. There are many articles and books about him so there is no need for me to write about his life and art here, but I have had a few “connections” to his work that would be fun to summarize.

Probably my earliest exposure to his work was in my youth, with all of the Boy Scout calendars, books and magazine covers he illustrated. In the 1960’s, when I was a teenager working as a part-time janitor at church, I was surprised when an old woman brought in her collection of tattered Saturday Evening Post magazines that she had been saving for nearly 40 years. All were Norman Rockwell covers! I was delighted at her generosity and treasure the gift to this day; many have been framed and hang in our home. I sometimes will forget the church lady’s first name, although I can usually remember her last – Berry. It’s funny, but with some creative linking, first thinking of Halle Berry, I can remember her full name: Hildur Berry. She was a sweetheart.

A few years later I was on a canoe trip on Eagles Nest Lake, near the Boundary Waters. My fellow voyageur (and boss), Dick Lindskog, led us to an old deserted cabin owned by a friend of his named Purvis. Over the course of many years he visited Purvis every time he went north to go bow hunting, and Dick felt justified to snoop around. The cabin was locked up, but Dick wanted to go inside so he persuaded me to climb onto the roof and see if there was a way in. The roof was in bad shape, and I easily slipped through a hole and dropped to the floor to let him in. Hanging on a wall above an old table was an ancient print of a clown sitting at a checkers game, another Norman Rockwell piece. Dick was sure that Purvis would want me to have it and he convinced me that I could take it with, so I carefully packed it in the canoe for the journey home. I kept it for many years, but it eventually disintegrated with age.

Flash ahead several years and I am at an estate sale, searching for items of interest. There was a huge box of old magazines, National Geographic on top, but down deep I found 40-50 issues of American Artist magazine. I put in an offer of $5.00 for the entire box, and won. What do they say, “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure”? For me, it was a treasure, and the first issue of American Artist that I opened when I got home had a long article about Norman Rockwell. I was so impressed with my find that I wrote a letter to the editor of the magazine, telling the story, and it was published.

Norman Rockwell’s paintings tell the American story. It seems that he had the ability to capture on canvas the everyday situations that we have all lived through or heard about. My favorites have been the ones that depict families and the events that are dear to me. There is one with a family, on vacation in their old car, that reminds me of all of the trips we took when I was young. “A Day in the Life of a Boy” and “A Day in the Life of a Girl” are special to me. Another with a red-headed girl shooting marbles alongside two boys, one with brown hair and one blonde, really hits home because it mimics my own children. There is the baby sitter and a crying baby, the father doing his taxes, and the dad talking to his son about the birds and the bees.

And what great wisdom have I learned from this master of American art? Norman Rockwell once said, “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.” Brilliant!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tech schmeck!

I hate to admit it, but I’m old enough to remember the age before computers.

When I applied for an art department opening in 1969, there were no questions about my skill level with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. I wasn’t asked if I had experience with Dreamweaver or website design. The last thing on anyone’s mind was my ability to operate a scanner and digitizer or whether I knew my way around color management software. All they needed to learn about me was that I had a steady hand, a keen eye for detail, some degree of talent and a strong desire to work. I can still remember the proficiency test: I was handed a Ulano swivel knife and asked to cut a Sta-Sharp stencil of a sale ad for Tradehome Shoes. Since I had hand-cut many stencils in school, the test was easy and I landed the job.

At the time, the only computer used by the company was in the accounting department. It was a large box in a small room that got quite warm from all of the electronics. Personal computers were not yet available, and all of the artwork we produced in those early years was through traditional stencil cutting, type setting and graphics photography.

PC’s began appearing during the mid-to-late 1970’s. CAD (computer aided design) workstations created huge growth in the design and art fields and the industry never looked back. Over many years in my role as a manager in the graphics business, I have always maintained that artists who were first involved in those traditional skills became our most talented and productive employees. There is something about creating an image with your hands and your mind that cannot be equaled by today’s high speed computer systems. By no means do I minimize the technical skills of graphic designers and production artists in the field today; it is absolutely amazing what these people are able to do with keyboard, tablet and scanner. I guess I simply have a soft spot for the old days, and I’m sure that is why I have not changed in my pursuit of fine art using traditional methods and techniques.

It’s ironic that after nearly 40 years in the graphics business, and close to 25 of those years supervising an art department, I probably couldn’t even get a job today in the high tech world of a modern art department. I certainly have a solid understanding of the capabilities of the systems, but my computer skills have been limited mainly to spreadsheets and word documents for some time now.

That’s OK, though.

I have my brushes!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I resolve to resolve in 2009

Happy New Year!

Another year is past, and I probably offer the same sentiment that many others have – good riddance. That’s not to say that 2008 was all bad. We had a fairly successful Minnesota Twins season. Michael Phelps gave us someone to cheer for during the Olympics. Another of our three children was able to buy his first house. The weather was reasonable for camping in the summer and our autumn trip to Rocky Mountain National Park was a highlight of the year. But, to be honest, I can’t think of very many other positive things. In July, my mom died at age 95, a sad occasion and end of an era. Gas prices went sky-high, making it more painful to take our beloved road trips. No Jack Bauer on TV. The constant political ads drove me crazy – so much so that I didn’t feel like voting for anyone by that first Tuesday in November. The world’s economic picture grew worse and worse as the year went by – bank failures, job losses, stock market woes and worry over retirement savings. At least I never met and invested with Bernard Madoff.

But, enough of this negativism. It’s time to start fresh! It’s a new year, and with it a chance to renew ourselves in any way that we can. Let’s be positive! Let’s make a difference! Change is in the air! How about a New Year’s resolution or two? It is only fitting, being a New Year’s Eve baby, that I should use the event to make resolutions.

We have all done it before. We look down at the belly that wasn’t there in our youth and say, “Be gone. I will lose weight.” We balance our checkbooks and find there is more month left at the end of the money and say, “I will stop spending.” Today I heard a quote that was attributed to Carl Pohlad, late owner of the Minnesota Twins. He once asked someone if they would like to learn how to become a millionaire. He said, “Start by being a billionaire and buy a major league baseball franchise.” Oh, to have that problem! It sometimes seems that the more money one has, the bigger the headaches, but it sure would be fun to test that theory, wouldn’t it?

So, what are some reasonable resolutions for me? I could probably build a list with 20 items, but in the interest of success I've whittled it down to a doable 5. Here is what I resolve to do in 2009:
  1. Lose the 10 pounds I gained back last year, and then lose another 10. That would put me 40 pounds lighter, total, over the last 2 years.

  2. Finish building my new website. (Actually, this might be a resolution for my wife and son; they are doing all of the work.)

  3. Complete at least 2 new pieces of art per month for the entire year. It may not seem like much, but adding this to my already jam-packed schedule of a full-time job and handling house issues is plenty, unless cloning me is an option.

  4. Blog more often. Many people write daily, but considering the reasons mentioned earlier, I resolve to write at least once per week.

  5. Stop being such a procrastinator! Get on the stick! Make a move! Git-R-Done!

What are your New Year’s resolutions? As for mine, I think I’ll start tomorrow.