Branchflower's Blog About Art and Websites

How to Find Your Voice as an Art Blogger

If you are currently publishing a blog—or just considering it—you want to do yourself proud.  A blog reflects on you as an artist, potentially giving you tons of credibility.  At its best, your blog is part of your creative expression.  But blogging can be a bit of a struggle.  Just as it took time to develop your style as an artist, your art blog will also take time to become a good reflection of you.  Fortunately, there are guidelines to help your voice evolve.


Read lots of blogs—art and non-art

Writers of every ilk read a lot.  When you like something, you tend to emulate it.  You may like and emulate several bloggers.  This is good.  Out of it will evolve your own voice.


Some questions that might help:

  • Are you serious or fun?
  • Do you write like you talk?
  • Are you writing content you would like to read?

Your temperament, speech patterns and interests should be reflected in how and what you write.


Create a swipe file for those blogs and bloggers you most like to read

These are the examples you will want to follow.  Their styles, length of articles, topics, and how they respond to comments are elements worthy of your study.


Expect your taste to change over time.  The blogger who inspired you this year may bore you next year.  You may have become more discerning, or he may have become—well, boring.


Write regularly, whether that is daily, weekly or monthly (monthly is stretching it)

Doing anything well requires doing it regularly.  Eventually you will discover that some of your topics are much more popular than others.  It might be because some topics have wider appeal, or perhaps you wrote with more conviction.  Try to discern why some of your posts succeed and others don’t.


Pick topics close to your heart

Your writing voice will show commitment if you believe in your subject.


Your article should be about one thing.  Stay focused on your topic.  This article is about finding and honing your distinctive voice as an art blogger.


Tell a story

Some of my most popular posts were a series about downsizing my studio.  I wrote about the sadness, humor and compromises involved in going from a very large dedicated studio to a corner in a small study.  I wrote about how I adapted everything I need into this small space and how well it works. Photographs enhanced the descriptions.  I never dreamed anyone would care about this topic.  But during the Great Recession a lot of artists were downsizing—and they cared.


Review and edit the next day

I compose in MS Word then transfer it to my blog platform.  Word has a little more page space, and there is no chance to mistakenly publish a half-baked post.


Let your article rest for a day, because it will look different the next day.  Proofread  for incorrect words that your spell checker missed and broken sentences where you cut and forgot to paste.  Most of all, review the flow and clarity of the article.  Show your reader that you care.


If writing doesn’t jazz you, find a non-wordy style that is capable of carrying your ideas.


If English is not your first language, write anyway.  A Chinese-American artist blogger was in my favorites file for a couple years.  What he lacked in correct grammar was more than compensated for by his passion about art and his informative blog.


Write for your readers

A current fad is to create a set of identifying features of your “one” reader, and write for that reader.  It may help.  But I find it more fun to think of a group (I’ve got groupies!)  Do whatever works for you.  The idea is to write for your reader(s), not for yourself.


Know that readers will come and go.  They may follow you for a couple months or forever.  Their needs change.  Your insights change.


Take a little risk

Keep in mind that what you put on the internet is available to your parents, spouses, bosses and art galleries.  Forever.  So be mindful of what you reveal.


That said, you can write about write about hurdles you face and how you overcome them as long as you write with humor or dignity.  Understand your personal tolerance for risk before you post anything too revealing about your thoughts and activities.


Love your blog

Enjoy writing for it.  Enjoy the personal growth that will result from developing topics.  And relish the occasional conversation that is generated by something you write.


In Summary…

These tips will help you develop your distinctive blogging voice:

  • Read lots of interesting blogs
  • Save them to a swipe file
  • Write regularly
  • Pick topics close to your heart
  • Tell a story
  • Sleep on it—edit the next day
  • Write for your readers
  • Take a risk
  • Love your blog


Have fun, and add to the list if you wish.

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VMRC 2015 Prospectus is available

Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) posted the prospectus for its 2015 exhibit .


I've praised this exhibit before, and will continue doing so.  They've sold every painting I've sent to them since I discovered them about 5 years ago.  And they are wonderful to work with.


There is no commission.


Your only expenses are shipping and the $35 entry fee for 3 submissions .


Most of their sales are in the $200-400 range with a few over $1,000.  Click here to view last year's exhibit (prices in red indicate sold.)


If you think your work will fit in this exhibit, I encourage you to include it in your 2015 schedule.  They have a nice office space they convert to gallery space once a year.  It is virtually no work on your part--you just ship your art.

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Movie Review: National Gallery

In this documentary tour of the London National Gallery’s exhibits in 2012, director Frederick Wiseman gives you a behind-the-scenes view of the presentation, maintenance and boardroom politics of fine art.  He doesn’t seek controversy or drama, instead presenting a calm and enlightening story of the paintings (by docents). You observe the National Gallery Board’s discussion about  balancing museum dignity with the need for popular exposure.  And most fun for me, you look over the shoulder of one of the Gallery’s master restorers while he repairs damaged paintings, gilt frames and sculptures—and he tells you what he is doing!


Go easy on the sodas and coffee:  National Gallery is 3 hours with no intermission.  Don’t wait for Netflix unless you have a very large TV—it needs a big screen.  I do have a small gripe:  While docents were being filmed, I really wanted to look at the paintings under discussion.  (Sometimes the docent got more on-screen time than the painting.)  Aside from that, I loved the film.  Because it is informative with approachable language, the film is interesting to non-artists, as well. 

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Why Do YOU Paint--and How Do You Explain It?

In the prior post, Why I Paint, I discussed some of my environmental concerns and how they affect my landscape paintings.  Because the environment is such a controversial topic, I rarely address it verbally in relation to art.  I neither want to offend nor argue.  Above all, I want to protect my privacy.


How do you deal with controversies in your art?  Do you hold back?  Do you expose all of your motivations?  Do women withhold more information than men when talking about their art?  Is it a generational thing?  Do today’s young artists speak more freely than did artists 50 years ago?


The internet has given us uncensored freedom to write.  No one can interrupt us or throw rotten tomatoes.  We can delete critical comments like they never existed or we can take our time developing a well-thought out rebuttal.  Either way, we can defuse controversy on our websites.  It is a little more difficult in person.


Maybe you size up your audience (whether one person or many) before deciding how much of yourself to reveal.  Conversation is easy enough when people agree, but how do you handle a confrontational visitor at your gallery opening who has just listened to your talk and vehemently disagrees with you--loudly?


Most artists have a fairly set patter that has served for many years.  It reveals enough to make the collector feel included.  But in the last few years I’ve questioned whether I’ve been lying by omission to my collector base:  I haven’t given them the deeper reasons.   


My dialogue with the painting is critical during the creation of the work.  When the painting is no longer in my home, the dialogue is finished.  The dialogue the collector has with the painting is equally important.  And if collectors take paintings home only to find that all they can think about when they look at the painting are the things I said—then I have gone too far.  How far can honesty go before the artist’s truths dominate the conversation a collector might wish to have with the painting?


How much thought have you really given to why you paint?  How do you explain such personal motivations to a stranger?  For decades, statements like painting is the language in which I am most proficient, or oil painting is all I wanted to do was all I was willing to give.  No one can dispute those two statements.  I’m not brave.  I don’t know how much privacy to let go of.   How much do other artists reveal about their deepest motivations, and their political and social concerns that influence their artwork?  

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Why I Paint

It is difficult to write about my paintings.  The expression I put into them is personal, and represents my feelings about the environment and our use of it, as well as a certain spirituality.  It is not relevant whether or not I belong to a church, am agnostic or atheist:  I cherish this beautiful earth.


I have long felt my paintings are an effort to ease away the abuse that we heap on the earth with our constant scraping, gouging, polluting and endless taking.  I am part of the problem with my requirements for hot water, bright lighting, abundant food and a reliance on the petroleum industry for transportation, heating and many of the fabrics and furnishings in my home.


No one should be surprised that California and parts of eastern Oregon are experiencing devastating water shortages.  When you mine groundwater (pump it faster than it can be replenished) you will eventually run out.  Rainfall will never replenish California’s deep aquifers.  Only deep snow pack in the Sierras Nevada range will.  The snow has to be deep enough and the temperatures low enough to make that snow last most of the year—all year in the highest elevations.  Snow pack has been diminishing for decades.  The current drought is horrible, but Californians could have gotten through it unscathed had they not been using water for the last 75 years like it had no end.


I look for ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint.  I’ve even questioned my selection of materials used in painting.  But when people tell me what they experience when they look at my paintings, I resist compromising them in any way.  If my paintings move people to cherish (and take better care of) our unique planet, then I have not painted in vain.

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My Landscape Palette

Have a sweet Thanksgiving day!


Whether you are a plein air or studio painter, you need to select and stay with colors and brands that work easily for you.  Colors by the same name vary from one manufacturer to the next, making it hard for you to learn how to mix your colors predictably.


Lay out a complete palette each time you paint.  Even if you don’t think you will need a color, put out a little dab.  You may need it for tinting or toning, and if it is not there your color mixes will suffer.


Lay out your palette in the same order every time.  This keeps you from dipping into alizarin crimson when you really wanted burnt umber.  There are many good layouts—pick what makes sense to you.


I have used the same selection of colors for decades, deleting or adding just a couple, and upgrading to professional grade oil paint when I could afford it.   This is my landscape palette, arranged warm to cool, from left to right:

  • Titanium white (Old Holland), opaque and permanent, a nice dense white.
  • Alizarin crimson lake extra (Old Holland), transparent deep violet red, this is actually Quinacridone, a permanent alternative to the old fugitive alizarin crimson.
  • Cadmium red light (Old Holland) opaque, dense red with a hint of orange.
  • Cadmium barium orange (Grumbacher P-T), opaque, simply a very pleasant orange.  Grumbacher paints have a lot more oil and carrier in them, rendering them less intense than Old Holland.
  • Cadmium barium yellow pale (Grumbacher P-T) opaque.  Sometimes I buy Old Holland lemon yellow instead, but lately I have preferred the weaker Grumbacher because of developing cataracts.
  • Yellow ochre light (Old Holland) opaque, an ugly color but invaluable as a mixer!
  • Burnt umber (Old Holland) transparent, warm brown, very dark.
  • Viridian green deep (Old Holland) transparent, cool deep green.  This is the only green on my palette, and is useful in skies as well as in the landscape.
  • Ultramarine blue (Old Holland) transparent, deep dark blue with a hint of violet.  Usually my only blue.

Additional tubes I rarely use:

  • Naples yellow (Old Holland) is on my palette only if I am painting bleached summer grass.  For years I got along fine without it, but again—the eye problem seems to create perception problems with yellows and purples (complimentary colors, which I find interesting.)
  • Cadmium barium yellow medium (Grumbacher P-T) opaque, nice for wildflowers and mixing some greens.
  • Ivory black (Old Holland) is available, but rarely used.  It makes nice greens, and in some situations works well to reduce a hue.  If over-used it can make a painting look ashy.

Learn which pigments are permanent.  Some manufacturers post the pigment’s permanence on their website.


Anything with “Hue” in the name is an inferior substitute for the real thing.  Better to have a very limited palette of high quality paint than a lot of tubes of trash.


Professional grades of artist oil colors are far superior to student grades.  They contain more pigment in proportion to the oil, and are more finely ground.  Even if you cannot afford the more expensive cadmiums, you will probably be able to afford the umbers, siennas and ochres which cost very little more in the professional grades.  Think of it as “student grade paint is to professional grade paint as margerine is to butter.”

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Get Rid of Your Dud Posts

I had this great idea about describing each color on my palette in detail.  One post per color.  The first post in this series (yes! a series) was on Viridian Green.  In two weeks ONE person read it.


Clearly, this idea was a dud.  What happens when readers come across a useless blog post?  They leave your website.


Lesson learned:  Delete that bad post now (I did.)

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How Does an Artist "See?"

When I was assisting one of my painting students recently, she asked, "How do you see all this stuff?"  She came to drawing and painting late in life from a literary career, and has not studied art formally.  She has very good color and design sense, but little confidence when applying paint to canvas.  Frankly, I am stumped as to how to answer her question:  No one taught me how to see as an artist, nor did I take any classes or read any books about the unique methods artists use to see their world.  Did I miss something critical in my education?


I gave my student what I thought was a simple assignment:  She was to study an egg, and since her comfort zone is in writing, she was to write in detail about her observations.  Her next question was, “What am I supposed to look for?”  My answer, “Light and shadow patterns, and all the subtleties therein.  Texture, shape and symbolism—they are all fair game.”


That she was still flummoxed sent me on a search for an explanation about how artists see.  The results of that search were spectacularly disappointing.  Most articles crow that “Yes, indeed, artists do see differently than the rest of the population.” But they do not say why or how.


Other articles offer the results of brain scans that reveal differences between the brains of artists and non-artists when given creative tasks.  But that doesn’t really help my student.


Another scientific study tracked eye movements of artists and non-artists when they looked at an ordinary photograph with a person in it.  Non-artists looked mainly at the person in the photo.  Artists’ eyes tracked all over the photo, to every corner and edge, in addition to the figure.  This may provide a clue to my student she needs to look for relationships within the entire space—not just at the egg.


One day I entered my dining room and noticed the negative space created by the chair and table legs and cross-supports against our plain carpet.  My brain was seeing patterns, not a table and chairs.   This is how I often see my world, and the concept surprised me—when did this change occur in how I define objects and space?  This question I can answer:  It was a couple decades ago when I made a study of N.C. Wyeth’s use of negative space, and discovered that "empty shapes" could be as interesting as objects.  I remember the excitement when negative space first “jumped” off the page!  This is not to suggest that I always see the world in terms of negative space—I see mostly in terms of color, shape and value patterns.


Assuming these observations are valid, there is no quick and easy way to see like an artist.  Artist’s vision is not a unique study:  It develops from the persistent study of color, form, composition, values and expression that we see and experience in our daily lives.  I never would have given it any thought had my inquisitive student not asked.

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The Up-Side of Blog Burnout

Two months ago I began reworking my website in an effort to improve readership, content and SEO.  After a year and a half of neglect it had pretty much fallen off everyone’s radar screen.  My initial focus was on the home page because that is where most visitors land.  Next, I revived the blog because text is important to search engines.  Some trends are already apparent.


Results of Home Page Redesign

I like understatement.  So for years my home page was as spare as I could get it.  Two months ago I switched to a template that added a list of recent blog posts, upcoming events and an invitation to join my email list.  Suddenly, the home page bounce rate took a notable dive and average time per visit jumped.  Think of it like a friend knocking on your door:  You invite your friend in and say, “Come into the kitchen, I’ve just baked cookies.”  Offer your guest something to enjoy (cookies, or an interesting blog post, or great images) and you will have a happy guest.  Your home page equates to the front door of your home.


For those readers who avoid their web statistics, “bounce rate” refers to people who land on a web page (in this case, the home page) and immediately leave the website.  Offering visitors links to internal pages resulted in them reading the blog, perusing the paintings, and generally roaming around the entire website.  The home page revision was successful.


Blog Trends, Observations and Questions

First, the trends:  A month ago I began posting weekly.   One post was very popular:  Picked up by BrushBuzz, one of those coveted links for artists, it netted many readers who went on to read my other posts and pages.  Again, the stats for these new posts are trending up and down in all the right places:  More pages are being visited by more people.  In particular, the percentage has increased of new visitors vs returning visitors.  You need both, but remember that new visitors become returning visitors, and if you fail to capture new ones your readership will shrink.


Now my observations and questions:  Some posts will be much more popular than others, and some buzz words will always get noticed and read:  “Blog Burnout” is currently a hot topic.  Resolving it is not (my posts on how to revive a blog didn’t get much attention.)  Do bloggers want to wallow in their misery a while longer before attending to the problems?   Are they simply tired of writing?  Or has promoting the blog become a time and energy drain?


Maybe those are the wrong questions.  What if the article titles or content were weak?  “Blog Burnout” was a series of 3 posts:  The first dealt with the situation, mine as well as the general blogging public; the second, with the soft issues of posting; and the third, with specific tasks that should improve the success of my blog and yours.  Each post had a different title.  Maybe those titles should have been the same with Part 1, 2 or 3 added, or some such variation.  It’s not too late—I could edit the titles for posterity.


Another observation:  My post reviewing the movie, “Tim’s Vermeer,” did not net very many readers.  However, 2/3 of those readers visited several other parts of my website—a good percentage.  I’m inclined to think, despite the fairly low readership, that movie and book reviews are worthy topics.


Mondays are widely regarded as one of the best days to post to a blog.  Yet my blog appears to gather more readers on Saturdays than on Mondays.  It may be worth while to experiment with Saturday postings.  The point here is if you are investing your time on a blog, manipulate its release to reach the most readers.


Is it just about gaining readers?  No.  If the content is not valuable, readers won’t return, and I’ve wasted their time and mine.  If they do find my blog informative, they will return.  “Informative” content has to be the purpose.  Benefits will follow.


I am an artist.  I am not a professional blogger.  So it is crushing when I write about painting only to have it totally ignored, as was a recent post.  What happened?  Was the article lame?  Do people just want to read about blog burnout?  To find out, I will have to explore the craft of oil painting more often and more deeply.  Eventually, the web stats will reveal the answers.


The up-side of blog burnout is going through a process of rediscovery, and writing and sharing thoughts about art and creativity with a fresh voice and renewed commitment. 

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Light and Atmosphere in Your Painting

Whether you are working with a still life set-up or plein air painting, think of light and atmosphere as closely related entities.  Their tone will influence your entire painting.  One way of unifying atmosphere is by toning your canvas—staining it, for example, with alizarin crimson for a rosy light, or yellow ochre for golden light, and leaving bits of that stain showing through the painting.


Another method is to use the atmospheric hue throughout the painting, with more in the background and less in the foreground.


A key element in creating atmosphere and unity is moving color around.  Bent grasses reflect sky colors.  Foreground shadows echo the color of distant mountains.  There will be a slight change in hue from bottom to top as you paint a 50’ tree.


This is “aerial perspective.”  However, I find that term cold and unimaginative.  I think in terms of light and atmosphere as I paint.


How you interpret what you see is a personal thing.  Southern California, being a warm climate, is often painted in warm light.  However, I always saw it as cool and silvery.  I felt vindicated when reading that some early southern California Impressionists also noted that silvery light.  It may be caused by fine dust and sea-salt particles adrift on dry breezes.  It does not exist in Oregon, which has an entirely different character to light.  Know your light.


Landscape or still life, the color of light and atmosphere will impact your handling of aerial perspective.  When you visit an art museum, take a small notebook with you.  In it, make notes of how other artists use color to create atmosphere.

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