Creative Inspiration: 4 Painters Who Create Immersive Worlds

December 27th, 2016

There are some painters whose work takes me to an alternate reality. This other world is populated by a certain landscape features or characters, an alternate universe that may or may not be like ours. Because it is similar to our own world yet it seems to obey its own laws, it might seem dreamlike or surrealist even though it might not technically be surrealism.

Here are four artists whose work appears to be a glimpse into another world. I want to visit each world and see what goes on there.

Roger Dean

Perhaps best known for his progressive rock album covers for the bands Yes and Asia, his otherworldly landscapes seem to obey a different kind of gravity. Boulders float in the air and strange creatures and plants hint at a pre- or post-human world.

Roger Dean - The Flights of Icarus - 1976

Roger Dean - Floating Islands - 1993

Roger Dean - Arrival in Cloud - 2014

Tara McPherson

Tara’s work is populated by pink-or-teal-skinned alien girls, vampires, and mermaids with heart-shaped holes in their chests. The colors and linework are so smooth they look like they are made of delicious candy … candy that makes your heart ache.

Tara McPherson - The Crystal Waterfall (detail) Tara McPherson I Just Want a Hug Tara McPherson - Follow Me

Bob Ross

Yes, Bob Ross, everyone’s favorite T.V. painter with the soft-spoken voice. No, his work isn’t surreal, but his landscapes seem to emerge from an alternative world where humans are actually responsible for the environment. This reflects Ross’s worldview and desire for a peaceful, harmonious life. I’m only showing this promo image because there have been so many copycats that I can’t really tell what is his. What I like about him is not so much the art itself as the spirit in which it is made.

Bob Ross painting happy little trees

Salvador Dalí

And if you want surrealism, the work of Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Púbol is arguably the definition of Surrealism. Dalí’s work came from a very strange inner world populated by all kinds of personal symbols.

Salvador Dalí - The Burning Giraffe - 1937

Salvador Dalí - Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon - 1941

Salvador Dalí The Temptation of Saint Anthony - 1946

Whose world would you want to visit?

Or is there another artist whose work transports you to a place you want to get lost in?

4 Reasons Your Art Is Not Selling

July 8th, 2016

Have you been making art for a while, hoping for a sale, and wondering why it is not selling?

Yeah, I’ve wondered this, too.

After mulling this over for a while, I’ve come up with 4 factors that influence your sales: your style, your inventory, your fame, and your price.

1. Your Style Isn’t Recognizable

Recognizable Artists: Calder, Dali, Cassatt, Stella


When you think of an artist like Alexander Calder, you think of mobiles made with organic geometric shapes in black and red. The ultimate in Midcentury Modern.

When you think of Frank Stella, you think of huge abstract-geometric paintings with carefully drawn lines.

When you think of Salvador Dali, you think of perfect blue skies over golden dreamscapes populated with melting clocks and bizarre dream imagery where time and memory are distorted and jumbled.

When you think of Mary Cassatt, you think of tender scenes of mothers and children.

If your style is all over the place, people won’t be able to identify your work. Some artists might feel like they are being pigeonholed or labeled, but it makes your work easier to sell if it is recognizable. People need to be able to identify your work.

If your work isn’t recognizable, you might sell a few one or two pieces here and there, but you won’t be very collectable, because you won’t have a distinctive body of work.

2. You don’t have enough “inventory”

Photo of clothes on a rack, by Jeff Sheldon (Ugmunk) via UnsplashWhen I talk about inventory, I mean your body of work. Your body of work needs to be cohesive: a collection of artworks that clearly go together. There will be some kind of continuity between them. There needs to be breadth and depth and all look like it came from the same artist.

If you’re a sporadic artist, you won’t have enough work to sell. You have to produce a lot in order to sell a lot. It’s really that simple. And the more you produce, the better you get and the more recognizable your style will become. In turn, your work is more likely to sell just on recognition, which translates to fame. More on this in a minute.

3. How Famous Are You?

Andy WarholAndy Warhol is reported to have said that, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” And somebody, somewhere, perhaps Seth Godin, said that now in the internet age, we are all famous to 15 people.

The point is, the average person is “famous” to somebody. Every time you post something on Facebook, the same set of people are likely see that and pay attention to it. And yes, it’s probably your relatives and close friends. So in a sense, you are already famous! You have people who like seeing what you are doing. It’s just that that number might be very small. But it doesn’t have to be enormous, either.

This is where the idea of 1,000 True Fans comes into play. If you have 1,000 people buying $100 worth of your stuff each year, you’re making $100,000 a year. Granted, half of that goes to taxes and then another big chunk goes to overhead, but it is a good enough place to start make a living for most people.

And for fine artists it may be more like 10 True Fans buying $1,000 of your work every year since. That sounds like a tremendous opportunity to really get to know your fans

4. Is the Price Right?

Pricing is a really tricky thing to deal with because there are several factors: materials and overhead, time and effort, skill level, and fame.

Materials and Overhead

Sculptor working on a large bust in the studio. Photo by The Digital Marketing Collaboration via Unsplash.

You have to pay for your materials and overhead before you can sell your art: canvas, paint, varnish, clay, stone, tools or utensils, stretcher bars, studio rent, utilities, furniture (such as easels and work tables), and operating costs such as photography and everything involved in marketing your work such as a website and any advertising you might do.

Time and Effort

Time lapse photo of a flip clock. Photo by Loic Djim via Unsplash.

When you start out, it might make sense to base your pricing on your hours or the size of your work. But the bottom line is you have to pay yourself for your time and effort. If you’re good at what you do, charging hourly for your work punishes efficiency.

An experienced artist might be able to produce a fantastic painting in fraction of the time it takes a beginner to produce something at a lesser level or even the same level. I have produced fantastic paintings that took just a few hours and others that took 20 hours or more.

If I were hiring somebody to do a website, I wouldn’t care how many hours it takes them as long as they do it. I’d say, “Here’s $X,000, go do it.” Not: “Here’s $X,000, do it in XX hours.” The developer of course will make sure the time spent is appropriately in line with his or her skill, whether it is 20 hours or 2. For all I know, they already spent 300 hours creating a customizable product that only takes 15 minutes to set up.

Skill Level

Weaver's hands. Photo by Le Voyageur Infatigable via Unsplash.

Paintings executed with a higher level of skill are much more likely to be more expensive. And the more skilled the artist, the faster that artist is likely to complete the paintings, so in effect it is a dramatically higher hourly rate. You’re paying for experience and expertise. A 30-year veteran knows a lot more about painting than someone who just picked it up last week. Someone with this much skill is likely to produce a higher-quality piece of work.

The More Famous You Are, the More You Can Charge for Your Work

A shark suspended in formaldehyde. Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution, 2170 x 5420 x 1800 mm | 85.5 x 213.4 x 70.9 in.

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution, 2170 x 5420 x 1800 mm | 85.5 x 213.4 x 70.9 in.

As you grow your fame or notoriety, you can charge for it. Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are pretty famous in the contemporary art world. They made a splash 20-something years ago and continue to do so. Jeff Koons can mass-produce a gazing ball and sell it for a lot of money. Is it simply because he is a famous contemporary artist? Maybe. There is some skill involved, but I suspect the greatest skill is a keen sense of marketing and knowing what people will buy as well as being famous for being famous in a particular niche.

People buy name recognition. Why do you think fashion labels are so successful and go plastering their logo on their products?

So. What Does This Have to Do With My Work?

My Wall at Erabellum for the January 2016 Art Crawl

With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at my own work.

I’ve been painting since 1999. But I haven’t sold very many paintings. My sales have been pretty much nonexistent, averaging less than one a year. Pretty sad, huh? Yeah, kinda. But I think I can see why this is the case.


I have painted in several distinct styles over the years, but up until recently there hasn’t been anything to really tie it all together. That said, I think I’ve found a visual idom that makes sense.


I have not really been very prolific. I have been lucky to finish 5 or 6 paintings a year. But if I really push and do a challenge like Art Every Day Month, I’ll produce that many in a month.

My practice is not consistent enough to produce work on a regular basis, which might explain for the scattered quality and varied styles. The obvious thing is to develop a more regular and disciplined practice of creating art.

In other words, I think I need to fail faster. Go for quantity over quality.


I think my pricing is right on the mark as far as my materials and skill level, but I don’t think my pricing speaks to my level of fame, as it were. I’m pretty much unknown, even locally.


Fame is the one area where I’m hesitant. It’s honestly kind of scary to think of becoming famous.

But this is why my friend Jeff talks about why it’s okay that nobody has heard of you. Embrace your invisibility so you can get better faster while the world isn’t watching.

Finally, I don’t think I’m getting it out there like I should. I’m trying to figure out how to market it. People can’t buy my art if they don’t know about it. Since I’m unknown, I’m not famous.

What’s Next

I think the reason I’m not selling is that I’m not producing work steadily enough, which makes my style somewhat irregular and creates a lack of product, or inventory. Since I’m not producing regularly and getting it in front of people, nobody knows about it, so I don’t have any name recognition to leverage.

I know exactly what I need to be doing now. It all starts with a regular studio practice. Once I get that ball rolling, I’ll eventually be able to start selling my art on a regular basis, probably in the next few years.

What About You?

What do you need to do to get your art selling? I’d love to hear your ideas.

What do Christians need to know about the visual arts?

August 5th, 2014

art-church_hdrOn Facebook, I posed this question: “What do Christians need to know about the visual arts?” I discovered that I wasn’t asking the right question. It’s not so much a matter of what Christians need to know about the visual arts. The better question to ask is, “What does anyone need to know about the visual arts?”

As it turns out Christians and non-Christians alike are fairly ignorant about the arts overall.

There are some important things to understand, regardless of your beliefs:

  • Art is a language and a kind of philosophical expression. You have to have a vocabulary to talk about it if you are going to get anywhere. This is the foundation of art appreciation. There is a whole branch of philosophy that deals with this called Aesthetics. As with any branch of philosophy, a definition of terms is a must. At it’s core aesthetics deals with the question of what is beautiful, but that changed with Modernism.
  • Since the early 1900s, the process behind art is more important than the artifact itself. If there is a compelling theory behind the work, that makes the work worthwhile. “Art for Art’s sake” is an antiquated notion from before 1900.
  • This is why art so much 20th century art can be considered ugly. Art is often far more than what a thing looks like or its perceived beauty. The art is an artifact or a result of a particular process or theory.

With that out of the way, I have a better question to ask:

What role do the arts play in the Church?


Now I think we are getting somewhere. I think the most crucial issue here for me is the matter of art and worship.

But before we get into that, I want to take a minute to explain that I come from an evangelical background. Church of Christ, to be specific.

If you had to put any sort of aesthetic label on the worship style of the ostensibly non-denominational, autonomous C-of-C way of thinking, it would be Spartan or minimal. It’s pretty stripped down. A-capella music — all vocal, no instruments, no choir, no organ — in minimally furnished auditoriums.

I can say a lot more about the churches of Christ, but that’s something of a tangent from what I’m getting at. All I want to say is I grew up in an environment that was not very expressive when it came to worship, although a-capella singing can be as spectacular as this video of what appears to be seniors on a retreat at a camp or something, singing “O Lord Our Lord”:

(Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.)

So that’s where I come from. Maybe you came from a more expressive religious background, or no religious background at all and you’re new to this Christianity thing.

Either way, I think art can be very important in the church, and it should be.

I’ve always seen art as both a lifestyle and a means of worship. Honestly, there’s not a lot of difference between art and faith. They are both ways of looking at the world. The end result, the artifact, is different, but there is a significant and overwhelming overlap between the two.

Art should facilitate worship and build people up

I think a lot of us creative types really grok an art form quickly and get really into it, either the making of it or observing it. It can become an expression of worship that other people might not understand. So in that sense it is a lot like speaking in tongues. Paul cautions in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 that if someone is speaking in tongues in worship, there should always be an interpreter, otherwise they should keep it silent. With that being the case it is always recommended that the artist or someone else be available to translate, if you will, what he/she has just done, unless it is an art form that is more commonly understood.

I imagine congregational singing to be pretty universally understood. On the other hand, someone doing a painting during the Lord’s Supper might weird some people out. Other people would get it instantly and be moved by something that makes Communion more real and less abstract. But for those who don’t understand, it might help if it is narrated or closed with some devotional thoughts summing it up. At the same time, I think something like this could do a lot to enhance worship by giving it another dimension.

In other words, until it is understood without explanation, respectful education is in order.


Art and Faith as Lifestyle

Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 encourages us to make our faith a lifestyle, a way of thinking, looking, seeing, being. Art is much the same. Someone who is an artist tends to see the world differently. Not just in noticing colors or textures, but in intuitively grasping a certain poignancy about every day things. Art is a way of seeing. Seeing more than just what is there. It’s kind of a romantic notion, sure. But there is so much more to life than what is just there. And if faith is hope in the unseen, then what is art? That’s where I see a huge overlap between art and faith.

What’s better than to show people by any means how much richer this life is than when taken at face value?

I think that is the role of art, in the church or elsewhere.

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What role does art play in the church?

Photo Credits: Header image (Gothic iconography): lisabelle3 via Compfight cc Gothic detail of writing hands: vidalia_11 via Compfight cc Peeling paint: jenny downing via Compfight cc

I Like It.

July 15th, 2014

Like Thumbs UpAll too often this is what I hear from people regarding art or design. They have an either/or response: they like it or they dislike it.

I suppose this is natural and a fundamental part of our humanity. If something makes us uncomfortable or unpleasant, it’s probably a good idea to stop doing whatever that thing is.

Yet what makes art “good” isn’t necessarily what makes it pleasant or even likable.

Nowadays the creative process or the theory behind it is what makes art compelling.

Not what it looks like or even how beautiful it is. While beautiful art is making something of a comeback, there’s still a lot of 20th century art sitting around that isn’t necessarily fun to look at, but it has some strong concepts and processes driving it.

But back to liking or disliking something: when you say this, it sounds like you haven’t given it further thought. Sure, you may be going on your instincts, and your gut is often right, but simply liking something makes it sound as if you haven’t critically observed whatever it is you’re looking at.

Picasso's Guernica

I want to hear more people qualify what they are liking or disliking. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) isn’t pretty, but it is important, because it makes some pretty bold statements about how ugly total war is.

It is both personal and impersonal: the impersonal war obliterated a town not far from the place Picasso grew up. There’s nothing pretty about it and there isn’t supposed to be. It’s brutal.

The painting moves you because it tells you how terrible war is. Everywhere Picasso turned, the newspapers were full of death and destruction of people, animals, property. He was overwhelmed and outraged and it shows.

And you want to say whether you like or dislike “Guernica”?

That’s about as dumb as saying whether you like or dislike the war that prompted it.

Look deeper.

Not just at art, but the world around you.

We’ve become so dumbed down by a simple thumbs-up. Life is far more complex than that. Develop a vocabulary to talk about it.

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Saying you like or dislike Picasso's painting GUERNICA makes as much sense as saying you like or dislike the war that prompted it.

Experimenting with the 500 Letters artist statement generator

October 31st, 2013

Image: Nashville skyline in late summer, early fall.Recently, Alyson B. Stanfield of Art Biz Coach shared on Facebook a snippet of a gallery’s promotional email she received that was full of artspeak, that curious language in which artist statements are written that has more in common with theoretical physics than regular English. It’s also known as International Art English, or IAE.

So I went looking for the latest artist statement generator, and found 500 Letters.

There have been artspeak generators over the years, but this one is actually rather convincing. I plugged in some basic information — my name, the year I was born, where I work now, and so forth. Then I chose my primary and secondary media (painting and drawing), and selected three themes: urbanity, landscape, and utopia, which actually are the themes my work centers around.

You can see it is almost convincing, even though the tone is all wrong compared to my actual artist statement. Some parts are a bit of a stretch, but not too far off-base:

Brad Blackman (°1978, Bowling Green, KY, United States) makes paintings and drawings. By merging several seemingly incompatible worlds into a new universe, Blackman focuses on the idea of ‘public space’ and more specifically on spaces where anyone can do anything at any given moment: the non-private space, the non-privately owned space, space that is economically uninteresting.

His paintings are often about contact with architecture and basic living elements. Energy (heat, light, water), space and landscape are examined in less obvious ways and sometimes developed in absurd ways. In a search for new methods to ‘read the city’, he uses a visual vocabulary that addresses many different social and political issues. The work incorporates time as well as space — a fictional and experiential universe that only emerges bit by bit.

His works bear strong political references. The possibility or the dream of the annulment of a (historically or socially) fixed identity is a constant focal point. By exploring the concept of landscape in a nostalgic way, he investigates the dynamics of landscape, including the manipulation of its effects and the limits of spectacle based on our assumptions of what landscape means to us. Rather than presenting a factual reality, an illusion is fabricated to conjure the realms of our imagination.

His works establish a link between the landscape’s reality and that imagined by its conceiver. These works focus on concrete questions that determine our existence. Brad Blackman currently lives and works in Nashville, TN.

In all seriousness, one could actually use something like this as a jumping-off point for your own artist’s statement, and then adapt it into your own language and tone. Or it could inspire you to make something new. Reading this, I start imagining how to make fictional cities fueled by my love of mystery and science fiction.

For further reading, check out A user’s guide to artspeak from The Guardian.

The Art Pyramid

October 15th, 2013

Lezley Davidson’s Art World Pyramid reminds me of the food pyramid. At the top, you have what there’s a little bit of, and the bottom, you have a very broad base. The food pyramid is more about ideal portions you should eat, but Lezley’s art pyramid is more about the makeup of the overall art market/industry.

Image: The Art World Pyramid  by Lezley Davidson

This art world pyramid groups artists into three main groups: the academics, the pretty pictures, and the merch artists.

  1. The Academics Image: ai weiwei, bang, installation view, 2013  image © designboomThis is the smallest and most elite group — mostly MFA-educated artists with a clear understanding of how their art functions in regard to the context of art history, consciously participating in a generations-old dialogue. Success is measured by a retrospective at a major museum like MoMA or The Met. Millions of dollars may be at stake on a single transaction. Artists at this level tend to make their living through grants, if not selling their work to millionaires. It’s “blue chip” art that is often challenging to viewers, found at the mega art fairs like the Venice Bienniale or Art Basel Miami. Damien Hirst is the first that comes to my mind when I think of this category. image: Ai Weiwei, “Bang” installation view at the 2013 Venice Bienniale, image © designboom

  2. The Pretty Pictures Image: Michael Shane Neal in his studio, working on a painting with a sitterThis larger group might also be called “gallery artists” as most of them make a living selling their art through gallery representation and dealerships. The art produced here is more “market” driven, largely dependent on the gallery system and art fairs. More and more of the “pretty picture” artists are becoming independent from galleries due to the growth of the Internet and social media and the like, selling their art directly to collectors. This is probably what most people think of when they think of artists. Thomas Kinkade is probably the most notorious in this category. One I really admire is Michael Shane Neal. He does fantastic portraits and landscapes, working in a traditional manner. image: Neal in his studio, photo from his Facebook page.

  3. The Merch Artists Image: DOOM/Army of Darkness t-shirt art mashup by JimiyoThe final category is the broadest in terms of subject matter and size, and up until recently used to be pretty looked-down up on in the art world, just a step above commercial art or graphic design. In fact, a lot of these artists probably have other jobs as graphic designers. The art in this category is very market- and trend-driven. These artists aren’t afraid to riff on something in popular culture, playing off a meme like LOLcats or Doctor Who or Star Wars. I think of my friend jimiyo who has been rather successful as a t-shirt designer and curator. This segment doesn’t shy away from “low-brow” subjects or aesthetics. It’s usually more fun and doesn’t take itself as seriously as the academics. But there is a lot of room for growth. image: Jimi’s DOOM/Army of Darkness mashup t-shirt design

Image: Pyramide at La Louvre Photo Credit: Panoramas via Compfight cc

Lezley goes into a lot more detail on her blog and especially her podcast so you should go check it out.

So as Lezley says:

The point of the separation into categories is to illustrate that each distinct artist group needs a VERY different marketing plan to see success in their little art universe.
The question now is, what part of the art market do you fall into? Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the “Pretty Pictures” (gallery) section. What about you? Please share in the comments.