I may be prejudice, since I am Moravian, but I think the Moravian Star is the most beautiful star ever invented. Every holiday in Los Angeles, I take out my Moravian Star for display in my livingroom. My recent trip to Bethlehem, PA (Christmas City, USA) had me thinking about my origins.
Few people have heard of the Moravians. They are a small but important group who were some of the earliest Protestants, rebelling against the authority of Rome more than a hundred years before Martin Luther in England. Jan Hus, founder of the Moravian Church, was burned at the stake for heresy against the Catholic Church. One unusual and shocking belief was the group's focus on universal education. By the middle of the 16th century there was not a single town without a Protestant school in the Czech lands, and many had more than one, mostly with two to six teachers each. In Jihlava, a principal Protestant center in Moravia, there were six schools: two Czech, two German, a Latin school and even one for girls.
The Moravian Star was invented in December 1820 by Christian Madsen at the Brethren House, a boys boarding school, in Niesky, Germany. The original star had 110 points and was used as decoration in January of 1821 for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the school. The star was then used to demonstrate geometry lessons in Moravian schools but was eventually adopted by the Moravian Church as a symbol of the star of Bethlehem. Over the years, many innovations in the style, size and color of the star have been created. Today Moravian stars can have from six to over 100 points but the most widely used has 26. From lighted to unlighted, large to small, white to red, paper to glass, the Moravian star continues to represent the holiday season for everyone.
Don't you think inventing a new star is pretty amazing? If you would like to have a Moravian Star you can find them on Ebay but the best selection is from the Moravian Book Store. Happy Holidays and may this season bring you joy.
I painted Umbria Autumn in 2009 but recently reworked a section of the painting and eliminated the wall on the left. I took a series of photos as I worked on the painting and it makes for an interesting insight into my process.
There are twelve images shown in the slide show as follows:
- 1) Pencil Sketch - I like to do an initial sketch of a painting to help me spot design problems and to better understand the composition.
- 2) Initial Layout on the Canvas - I do a line drawing first in one color but this is a little farther into the painting with the sky already painted in.
- 3) Adding Color and Value - The depth of the painting is worked out with the values.
- 4) Working in the Background Hills - Here the richness of the colors are developed.
- 5) Completing the Foreground - The scale of the scene is established with the foreground.
- 6) Adding the Details - Getting the richness of the autumn landscape.
- 7) Refining the Details - Final touches to the mid-ground.
At this point I thought I was finished and had the painting hung in my studio. Over the next year, I started to realize that something was bothering me about the composition. I didn't like the brick wall on the left side of the painting and started to work on solutions. The next four images are different ideas I tried out on my computer using Gimp (free version of PhotoShop) even before I attempted to take brush to canvas.
- 8) Replacing the Wall with Trees - The foreground became to dominant in this version.
- 9) Extending the Cliff - This one seemed to only replace one problem (the walls) with another (the dominant cliff).
- 10) Extending the Horizon - Everything pointed right of the left side in this one.
- 11) Combination of 8, 9, and 10 - I finally decided that this was the best way to resolve the painting and made the changes to the actual painting.
- 12) Final Painting
Comment on or Share this Article →
I am much happier with the latest version of the painting and hope you agree.
I grew up in a small town near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and just returned from a personal trip to the area. Whenever I visit, I enter into a time warp that combines my memories of the past with the stark differences of the present.
Bethlehem Steel was a manufacturing dynamo during my parent's life and they, along with most everyone else, were employed by the company. The landscape of the town was built around the steel mill which sprawled along the Lehigh River. Belching smoke into the air, the row of massive stacks were the heart of the furnaces that produced most of the steel used to build the skyscrapers of New York City. The I-beam, which Bethlehem Steel innovation, allowed for modern construction. The steel used on the Golden Gate Bridge came from Bethlehem Steel and the plant built one fifth of the fleet for WWII in its shipyard. When the company went bankrupt and closed in 2001, I was already living in California so I wasn't around to see the dying gasps from the behemoth which had played such a huge part in building America.
Old Warehouse Near the Stacks
While I was in PA, I took a trip over to the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company. Many of the structures are still standing in various states of decay but a slow restoration is taking place. It is a monumental undertaking to bring the giant buildings back to life. I was awed by the strength of the place. One thing that was missing was the noise. As a kid I remember the sound made by the massive machines and the steam escaping from the top of the stacks. The vibration and underlying noise could be heard miles away. Now all is silent and that silence tells the tale of lost jobs, broken communities and forgotten dreams.
Stacks Along the Lehigh River
A casino stands where once enormous cranes lifted raw material from the gravel pits along the Minsi Trail Bridge. One of the block long cranes provides the entrance into the casino announcing "SANDS" in the steel framework. How strange to think that the most profitable casino in the chain now stands where the United States second largest manufacturer of steel produced the best steel in the world.
When I was growing up, I hated the mill. It was old and ugly, noisy and dirty. I resented the power that the "company" had and was saddened as it gobbled up generation, after generation in its giant maw. Looking back now with some perspective, I see it was an important part of our industrial past, a part of American history. Bethlehem, nicknamed the Christmas City, has evolved beyond the steel mill by incorporating its past with the present. I am glad others had the vision to include the old with the new. It is really something to see.Comment on or Share this Article →
Apollo & Daphne statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Imagination is amazing. It is an intangible thing but it manifests itself all around me. Someone designed practically everything I use and see. That desk, the computer, even the office I am sitting in all started with an idea. Someone first imagined it before it became reality. With so many artificial objects in my live, it isn't often that something jumps out at me and stops me in my tracks and says, "Look here. I'm beautiful." The last time this happened, I stopped the car to take a photo of an old yellow truck parked on the street around the corner from me. I was impressed with the sweeping fenders, extravagant front grill and decorative hood ornament. Someone designed this amazing machine to be mass-produced and to take you from point A to point B. Wow!
Maybe because of the holidays and looking for gifts to buy, I started thinking about that beautiful old truck and making some comparisons. I looked around at the latest gadgets that I had bought. They seemed blank, unimaginative, boring. I looked at the apartment building being built down the street and thought it looked like a glorified storage unit. I thought, "When was the last time my imagination was tickled by something new?" Todays products are designed to be invisible. They are geared to provide a service and be useful but not beautiful. Where is the passion for beauty in design that once was the hallmark of American ingenuity? Where is the imagination in design instead of just producing something cheap? Form can follow function and still be beautiful.
My thoughts made me realize that as artists, we have a unique opportunity to produce objects that are designed just for the sake of beauty. How amazing to make something with only the idea of producing something inspiring, an object of beauty for beauty's sake. Artists could be the last stronghold to preserve the concept of beauty.
Love the paint.Comment on or Share this Article →
Young Artist Hoping to be Discovered
"One art adviser who works at the top of the market says that a collector is “like a diseased human being ... these people love to buy, and they love to buy art. The process is a very deep-seated urge. This idea of hunting and gathering—it’s not a new one.”
This is a quote from the article " Why is Art So Damned Expensive?" by Blake Gopnik in the Daily Beast. It is an insightful look at the top-end buyers of the art market. Gopnik discusses what motivates the super wealthy to spend vast amounts of money for art. According to Gopnik there are five reasons why, in a down economy, sales of high-end art is up 34% from 2010. It is a fascinating read.
This look into the motives of the 1% top art buyers gives some insight into our own customers and may help us to better understand our clients. Below are my insights into the five reasons Gopnik lists about why art is so expensive:
- The Prestige Factor
Art and prestige have always been partners. The very idea of being an art collector gives status to spending. It is a feeling that we are using our money for something loftier than a big flat screen TV or a luxury car. Art gives the image of culture, supporting an artist with a purchase is another way to patronize the arts and the art itself enriches the collectors life. Catering to the prestige element is why some galleries have stayed successful. Even museums have added prestigious exhibitions to their yearly calendars. The art reception for these events is a coveted ticket where collectors and corporations want to be seen buying high-priced art. Buying online will never have that kind of prestige factor and maybe the price points you and I buy and sell at are not in the same arena but I still contend that keeping the purchase of art in respected surroundings is important to maintaining that "Prestige Factor."
- Dollars Are Easier to Measure Than Beauty
Recently there was a discussion online about ditching the "never lower your prices" rule. After reading this article in The Daily Beast, I am even more convinced that lowering your prices to sell more art is a bad idea. Since collectors buy what they love, price is rarely an issue so I am not sure what is to be gained by lowering your prices? It is doubtful that a collector will buy a painting they like less than another because of a few hundred dollars in price. Discounts only lead to more discounts. I learned this simple rule working retail. Unless you want to get caught in a downward spiral of pricing (just look at retail for Black Friday; sales up, profits down) don't lower your prices. Art should be bought for art’s sake but there is no denying that collectors love it when the value of their art purchases rise. The price of your work is how a collector measures its value. If a work of art is perceived to be worth less, won't a collector look at that work differently. Is it an advantage for art to be a bargain item like a discounted sweater in a pile of discounted merchandise? The act of lowering one piece of art cheapens all the others. If a buyer can get a bargain rate on one work of art, why not all? It is bad for you and everyone to cut your prices.
- The Thrill of the Hunt
Gopnik brings up an interesting point. It isn't fun to hunt if there is no game. He concludes that with so few old masters available, collectors have turned to contemporary artists and specifically modern art. Why is it exciting to sit in a gallery and have the salesperson bring treasures from the back room only for you to see? Because everyone loves the thrill of the hunt and finding a treasure before anyone else, satisfies our hunters heart. But flooding the market with your work will also damage your brand. Diamonds are one of the most valued stones in the world even though they are also one of the most abundant. The idea that they are rare is only our perception which is controlled by a handful of supplies who keep tight control of distribution. This sounds vaguely like the art dealers who sell high-end art. Distribution is key. If the market has a glut of anything, the perceived value is diminished. During tough economic times some artists think that more is better and will throw more work out there hoping for sales. Again, this is self-defeating and will only continue to cheapen the brand. I would suggest that if the work isn't selling, pull it out of circulation and replace it with new work. Perhaps in a year or two these pieces will again be in demand.
- New Money Skews the Market
According to this article, high-end art is up 34% over 2010. Yes, he is talking about Eli Broad caliber collectors here. So while the high-end of the art market is enjoying a surge, the opposite problem is plaguing mid-priced and emerging artists. Very wealthy buyers are spending more than ever while the rest of us are experiencing a shrinking market. Fewer sales of homes means less walls to cover, less sales, fewer galleries, well you get the idea. In addition, as more and more of the baby boomers retire and pursue an alternative art career, more mid-level (some would say low-level) art appears on the market causing an unwanted glut of merchandise. I won't get into a cause and effect discussion here. Let's just agree that since most people have less disposable income there are less sales in art for the average artist. The circumstances are in place to eliminate a bunch of artists from the herd. In the long run, this may not be a bad thing but short term, it will be painful for some artists who find their work out of favor.
I can't make this stuff up so please read this section of the article. The High Price of Patronage
This paragraph expresses the amazing excess that is lavished on art but also confirms an emotional investment by the patron as well. It implies that once purchased, the art is too precious to just sell for a profit. All collectors are emotionally invested in the art they buy, irregardless of the price. It is that emotion which triggers the purchase. Without it, you can't give your art away.
Closing, I want to say that I am sympathetic to artists who are finding themselves in a financial pickle and are contemplating different solutions. Just remember that the basic nature of collectors hasn't changed. Buyers still purchase art for the same reasons. It is just that now there are fewer buyers and finding them is more difficult.
Along the Kern River
This year is ending with a bang. Last night I found out that I received the Best of Show Award for my painting "Along the Kern River." I was Vice President of the San Fernando Valley Art Club for two years but I resigned my post at the end of 2010 because of this years busy schedule. I still try to make it to some of the meetings and enter the exhibitions which the club sponsors. Last night while helping to hang the show, I was impressed with the caliber of art on display. It is a wonderful high to have other artists recognize your work and I appreciate the kudos. SFVAC is the first club I joined when I started to paint full-time and I learned so much from all the supportive artists. Thanks to all the SFVAC members.
I also received the following email from Bob, a fellow artist at FASO.
I saw your comment on being better. Don't be too hard on yourself.
Your work is solid. All you have to do is, keep painting.
The work you do is always the best you can do at the time.
No one hits a home run every time.
Often your some of your early work will be "better" than your late work.
YOUR WORK IS SOLID!!!!!!
What makes this even more extraordinary is that I do not know Bob. He just decided to make my day a lot brighter with his support of my work. Thanks Bob. Here is an idea for every artist who reads this blog. 'Tis the season so why not email another artist and let them know how much you like their work. It will only take a minute and it could make their day, week or even their year better.