Photographing Art


Photographing art turns out to be very difficult.   You would think that you could just point a camera on your phone at a piece of art and it would come out correct. In fact if you’re at a museum it might actually work because the museum controls the light that is on every painting. In my house though I do not have high quality museum lights. What I have are crappy, yellow, florescent, warm, and plain terrible lighting. So when I take a photo of my paintings it usually comes out looking kind of like I took the photo under a streetlamp.

The problem is that the quality of light impacts the way the painting looks, but you can’t just get better lights and suddenly improve the quality of your painting photos. Cameras actually do quite a lot to try to “correct”  photos when you take them.   A camera will attempt to adjust the level of yellow versus blue in your photo, change the amount of light versus dark, and several other things that generally help when photographing things outside, but don’t help when photographing a piece of art.

This problem actually drove me insane for quite a while, so I decided to try to figure out what’s going on and fix it. I found that you can actually fix a lot of the problems with lights and color, but that you can’t actually fix it to a point where the artist who did the painting will agree that it’s correct. Even if I’ve solved the majority of my problems with art photography, other painters will have slightly different perceptions that will make it different for them. I’ll take a photo that has perfectly calibrated color, light/dark balance, and just about everything looks great to me but to them it’s still wrong.  Human perception is weird like that.

So as you read this keep in mind that this is just what I found makes the paintings look better for me when I photograph them. Also keep in mind that I am super lazy and I actually don’t do most of this stuff every single time I take a photo of my paintings. Many times I just whip out my best camera point and shoot and go,  “yeah that’s good enough.”

However, pretty soon I’m going to be taking more serious photos of my artwork for posting to a new project.  That means I have to become more formal about how I photograph my artwork, in this blog post is my attempt to write this down and collect information.


There is almost no easily found literature on the subject of photographing art, so I had to learn most of it myself.  You can find books and courses on photographing just about anything want.  There are books on photographing landscapes, houses, portraits, nudes, rocks, cars, and almost everything except for artwork.  The only resources that I could find on photographing paintings are from painters. The problem with this is the majority of painters are not professional photographers, so their advice tends to just be what works for them for a few times or keeps working for them.

What’s worse is the majority of photographers simply use Photoshop to correct all of the problems that they run into. Rather than try to take a photo correctly the first time, a photographer will simply take a whole bunch of photos and then fix them all up in Photoshop from memory.   For most things this works because a photographer isn’t really trying to record reality, but to create a pleasing artistic image so they have a lot of freedom to alter photos to be “better”.  When photographing artwork (or any forensic photography), your ideas of artistic integrity do not belong.  You’re trying to record as exactly as possible what is photographed.

This means the majority of the advice on how to fix a photo in Photoshop is useless. When you photograph a painting you have to control the lights, how it bounces off the painting, and get the color correct in the original photo while you are looking at the painting. To do that you have to actually calibrate the camera to the light source and use a camera and lens that solves some of the problems.

The Issues to Overcome

The following are the main problems I had when taking photos of my paintings. These aren’t all of the issues but they’re the ones that seem to be the hardest to solve with just Photoshop.

Light Color

Light color is best demonstrated by these two photos:

Compared to this one:

The first photo was taken without any correction to the color of the light (and bad focus on the top). The second photo was taken after correcting the camera’s color settings to more accurately reflect what I saw as more accurate.  The reason the first one isn’t right is that the camera was set to Auto White Balance mode, and I guess it thought the photo was too yellow so it removed the yellow (especially in the whites).  Problem is, I painted that sky as much more yellow, so it was wrong.  Now, maybe the first one is more appealing, but it’s not accurate.

I’ll explain later how I do this, but the general idea is you can calibrate your camera so that it knows that the light is set to a certain color temperature and then it will compensate so that the actual picture taken is correct.

Another thing that causes this is the temperature of the lights.  If you get a light that has a low temperature, say 3500 K, then that means it has more yellow in it and possibly red and less blue and the color. If you get a light that has a higher temperature, say 5500 K, then that means it has a lot less yellow in the light and much more blue. In most houses people pick lights that have a warm temperature in the 3000 to 3500 K range. But when you observe a painting you want to use the most neutral light, or maybe a much cooler light closer to the 5000 K range. If you use a light that has two cool of a temperature then the painting may look very harsh and not as colorful.

Chances are I did this painting under a yellow light, saw the painting as yellow, and then tried to “fix” the camera’s AWB correction.  Now we get into the weird world of human perception because I bet if I moved the painting over to a cooler light I’d want to take a new photo.  If I showed the painting to another human with slightly different genetics in their eyes they would see the painting just a little different and want to adjust it too.  The end result is you can never really get a photo of a painting perfectly accurate so that everyone looking at it in every kind of light will say it’s “correct”.  You just have to get close.

That means you can’t actually find a light that will perfectly render your painting. I have tried nearly every kind of light at every temperature in every possible way, and there just doesn’t exist the light that will make your painting look good with your camera set at its default or for every person. The reason is your camera’s default is to use something called auto white balance. Auto white balance will take any photo you take and try to balance all of the light temperature in the photo so that it is more even. Normally this works great when you’re taking photos in sunlight or outside or even interior light. But when you have to photograph a painting, you need to control the exact setting for the cameras color temperature or else it will shift the painting in strange ways to compensate for any light you use.

That means you need to calibrate your camera and tell it what the temperature of the light is. I’ll explain how I do this later after I talk about all the things that I tried first.

Reflections and Specular Highlights

When you photograph a piece of artwork that is glossy you have a problem with reflections in any area that is black, and specular highlights in any ridges of the gloss. Reflection happens because when you have a glossy pure black surface it actually acts as a mirror. In fact this is called a black mirror.  Specular highlights happen because, when you use oil paint, there are actual ridges and surface textures that hit the light at the right angle relative to the camera that cause a pure white light bright spot.

When you study painting you’ll see all these diagrams about where the highlights are on spheres and many of the diagrams are wrong because they just make it seem like the only factor is the position of the light relative to the shiny object. The actual cause of specular highlights and their position is based on the location your eye relative to the location of the light and the location of the object. If an object is shiny, and you move around, you’ll see the specular highlight move. There are a lot of ways to reduce the reflection on a glossy painting surface, but probably the best is to just use a zoom lens and get really far away, then move the lights so the highlights disappear.

Light and Dark Exposure

Cameras work very similar to your eye. When they look into a dark area they adapt so that they can take an accurate picture of the dark area. But to do this they need to change various mechanisms in the camera so that way they can receive more light from the dark area. What that does is it receives too much light from the light areas of the painting and causes a blown out light area. Your eye also does this, but you don’t really notice it as much. The inverse is also true. When the camera focuses on a very light part of the painting it has to change mechanisms internally to reduce the amount of light it’s receiving, which then makes all of the dark areas very dark.

This isn’t something that’s specific to cameras, as your eyes also do the exact same thing. It’s more a symptom of using a lens system with an aperture to focus light. The only solution is to simply take multiple photos exposed at different levels so that you can capture the information in the light and dark areas equally.  With exposures at different levels you can then merge them in photoshop to create an image with information in the light and dark parts of the painting.

General Image Quality

Something I am very terrible at is taking photos without a tripod. In general you’ll have image quality issues related to camera shake. If you are in a room that is dimly lit, then your camera will have to increase the ISO rating in order to get an image that is visible. The problem is that this higher ISO results in pixelation. So the only solution is to either get a better light, or increase the exposure time for the camera. If you combined this problem with the previous problem, then you end up needing a tripod to keep the camera stable. If you want to have very low ISO images, and use dimmer lights so you don’t get insane highlights and reflections, and you need to take a range of exposures so that you can capture lights and darks, then you have to use a tripod.

You’ll see in the next problem though that I typically just take a random photo pretty quick and throw it up because most of the services where I post my photos mangle the crap out of them anyway. I’m going to be retaking many of these photos in the near future, so I’ll be able to demonstrate my full set up.


To put it bluntly, Instagram is a terrible place to post photos of art. In addition to their strange censorship of anything with a nipple, they also stomp on your paintings in very strange ways.  Many times they try to “improve” your photos by altering the colors for no reason. For the majority of Instagram’s life you couldn’t even use something that wasn’t square.

Even now that you can use different aspect ratios, it still has problems. Instagram’s default cropping will still crop images that are vertical formats of very common painting aspect ratios.  It’s almost as if they simply went and tested two images from a 35mm camera and then forgot about 2000 years of painting history or all medium format cameras and beyond. Ironically, Instagram is based on medium format cameras which also have the same cropping issue when you use the wider formats vertically.

Instagram isn’t the only problematic service. If you post a photo of a painting with a heavy weave in the canvas, then Twitter will compress it such that people can see the weave. Even if the original image barely shows that weave, something about Twitter’s compression algorithm exposes the weave in the image.

There really is no solution to this, other than to take photos and then modify them before you post on Instagram.

Matte vs. Gloss

One final thing to note is that a lot of these problems don’t exist in any matte medium.  These are paintings that are done in watercolor, gouache, or pastel.   These paintings don’t have problems with reflections and specular highlights. They also seem to photograph better in different light temperatures. And they don’t have as many problems with dark and light exposure as many times they tend to be lighter mediums. You still have problems with color, but that is a constant problem with all photos of art.

Things That Don’t Work

Let’s go through some things that simply don’t work now that we know the general problems you face when photographing a glossy painting. I gathered most of this advice from random blogs, books, and other artists. I imagine there’s someone out there who is a forensic photographer and knows how to solve all these problems using these techniques, but I couldn’t get a single good-looking photo of my paintings to save my life doing these.

Image Quality

The first advice on image quality was to just use the noise reduction features of light room. You were told to take a painting, photo it, pop it in the light room, and then just play with the clarity and dehazing sliders. This doesn’t work because it’s kind of a garbage in garbage out situation. If you have a low quality image to start with that has a lot of noise, then most of the things you do to try and fix it simply make it worse. I’m sure there’s someone who is a Photoshop whiz that can solve these problems in Photoshop, but if you just take a better photo start with you don’t have to do as much.

Another suggestion in the opposite direction was to use very strong cool lights. The problem I had with these very strong cool lights was that they caused reflections and they made paintings look really weird and blue. I ended up having to load them in Photoshop or light room and still modify them a lot. Again if I just take a better photo to begin with I don’t have to do as much to fix it.

Other ideas I had were to use filters to control the lights, to bounce light off different surfaces, and to use different kinds of flashes. None of these things really work to fix the painting. The only thing that worked was use a good quality zoom lens, get really far back, and use a tripod.

Color Correction

Most painters solve the color correction problem by taking a photo and then again fixing it in Photoshop. They have the advantage that they have the painting right in front of them so they can keep twiddling the photo until it matches what they think the painting looks like. The problem with this is that if they are fixing the photo on their computer and looking at the painting under the same crappy light, then they’re just going to correct the photo to match the crappy light.

The worst suggestion I had was to take photos of the paintings outside in bright sunlight but under a shadow of the building. There’s even a hilarious photo of the painter with the painting propped up on her feet against the wall and the camera on her knees. I imagine the reason that this might work where she lives is that when you are in the shadow of the building the majority of your light tends to be very cool as it comes from the sky rather than the sun. But, she probably didn’t get a very good ISO setting on the image because there isn’t enough light.  She also wasn’t using a tripod.

The next suggestion was to use a device called a spider checker, or a color reference card. The color reference card is a block of color squares that are set to standard calibration. You put this next your photo in the exact same light, take your photo, and then, when loaded into Lightroom or Photoshop, you can run a tool that fixes the color according to the reference chart. This tool looks at your photo and each of the squares, then compares it to what it knows those squares should be inside its software. This would have worked pretty well, except to the majority of the software that does color correction is total garbage. I believe they write all the software in Adobe Flash, and it crashes on every third photo I would take.

Another solution that I tried is to use a color correction cube. This is a little cube with a light side a dark side and a gray side. You put this next year painting and take a photo like normal, and then you simply go in light room or Photoshop and click on the light side of the cube, the gray side of the cube, and the dark part of the cube setting each of the different light point, black point, and neutral gray settings of light room. This works okay, and is a lot cheaper than the color correction grid, but I found an even better solution later on that I now use.

Specular Highlights

Since I’m fairly lazy when I take my photos of paintings you can usually see specular highlights in them. But when I’m serious about it I try to remove the specular highlights. As I mentioned before it doesn’t matter what light you use, because any light will reflect off of the painting if it’s glossy enough.

The first solution proposed to me was to simply use a non-glossy varnish. But this actually makes the dark parts of your painting look dull and gray. The other problem is that I am impatient and I want to take my photo right now because I’m excited I just finished this painting. How else am I going to get 20 likes on Instagram?!

The next solution was to bounce the light off of a soft surface like an umbrella and then on to the painting. The problem with bouncing the light is again it seemed like it didn’t matter what I used I still got some kind of reflection or highlight. Also because the light is bounced off of a soft surface it is not as strong. So I either needed five or six lights, or crazy strong lights, both of which then just created more sources for reflections.

The other solution that I still use for the very difficult highlights, is to simply find them in Photoshop and remove them. As long as there’s only a few here and there I don’t mind this. You just use the healing tool to have each one removed and try to keep the spot as small as possible so you don’t alter the actual look of the painting. However, this becomes impossible when there is a lot of highlights or it’s a reflection. I also feel like this should just be a feature of light room. These highlights are almost always absolutely pure white, and I should just be able to go in and pick a color range and say remove all the dots like this and it will do it.

Light and Dark Balance

I tried quite a few random things to solve this problem, but most of them involve using some form of HDR. This is where you take a whole bunch of photos of different exposures. Some on the light range, middle range, and dark range, of the scene. Then that you merge them either manually or with software. Doing this you can probably produce the most balanced and accurate representation of the scene since you get full information for both the light and dark parts of the painting. I found this to be a big problem because it tended to make the light parts too dark and the dark parts too light. This technique works great for landscape photos and other photos of real life things, but doesn’t work so well for paintings.

Another suggestion was to simply not paint paintings that were too light or too dark. I mostly try to do this, but this means that all of your paintings end up right in the middle range and there’s no drama to them. The second you try to add some higher contrast elements you then have to fix this problem in your photos.

Things That Do Work

Now that I’ve cover the things that do not work, let’s go through the things I use now which actually do work. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional photographer. These recommendations are all from studying and experimenting with how to take better photos of paintings. A lot of this advice is fairly straightforward if you’re a photographer.

Image Quality

If you want to improve image quality then you have to use a tripod. You can get pretty good stability with some of the image stabilization systems  in cameras today, but nothing beats a good solid tripod.  With a tripod you can also take multiple exposures of your painting to select the best one or merge them together.

The next thing you want to do is force the ISO setting in your camera to 100 or less. Every camera today is able to force the ISO to a specific setting even if you’re using an automated mode. When you force the ISO to a specific setting the camera will adjust how long the exposure is and that’s why you need the tripod. If you have a very dimly lit room, then to get 100 ISO the camera needs to have perfect stability and a very long exposure time.

Finally you need to reduce all camera shake during these longer exposures.  The best way to do that is to either use a delay of 2 seconds or 10 seconds before the camera takes the photo. Or, use a camera remote to actually take the picture.

With these three things you then have a photo that is very in focus, has no camera shake, and a very low ISO so that there is no noise.

Another thing I have toyed with is shooting with RAW  format. Nearly every professional photographer says you have to shoot raw in order to be able to have a good image that you can work with, but I find that processing a raw file is so difficult, and that cameras do such a good job of their JPEG rendering, that I really don’t need to use RAW. Another way to put this is, I’m sure if I was better with Photoshop and Lightroom that I could take a raw image and make it way better than the JPEG coming out of the camera but in general every time I’ve tried to process RAW myself I don’t do any better than what the camera does.

I believe this is because cameras have become much better at knowing exactly how their lenses and their sensors work. In the past I think maybe cameras were terrible at compensating for lens defects and sensor bias, so everyone thought they had to shoot RAW. Now I think this is less of a problem, and the only time I really need the RAW as if I plan on doing some very very high quality printing. In that case I need the RAW mostly so I have no image artifacts from the JPEG compression and can compensate for the printer’s inks. Otherwise the JPEG is more than enough quality for the majority of my posting online and my own reference.

What I would rather do instead of using raw format is have my camera take many exposures in JPEG with RAW backup. Then when I get home I can look at the different exposures in light room and choose the best one, merge it with other ones, and then if I have a problem with a JPEG I can go into one of the RAW files and produce a better one.

In general I say you probably don’t need to process in RAW, but having RAW backup is great just in case the JPEG looks like garbage.

Color Correction

Of all the things I’ve tried for correcting the light color, Expodisk is the best. It works on the premise that you can point your camera at a gray surface, go into your white balance setting, and calibrate the white balance so that this gray surface comes out completely neutral gray. As long as the surface is actually a neutral gray and not reflecting some other color from the area this will work.

What the Expo disc does is go on your lens like a filter so that it filters out 50% of the light coming in making the image completely gray. It doesn’t necessarily change the color of the light, it just changes the amount so that it’s at a 50% level and an average of everything coming in. Once you do this then you can calibrate your camera either by pointing it at the image you want to take at the light itself, and it will correct based on the actual light that the camera sees. This is so genius I’m not sure why camera makers don’t just include this in their cameras by default. I’m pretty sure they could have the sensors they use simply flipped to a 50% gray mode and then they would have a built-in light temperature meter.

If your camera doesn’t support setting the white balance compensation manually, then you can use the Expo disc to simply take a photo that is all gray and then compensate within Lightroom. All you do is take the photo, then take all your normal photos, then in Lightroom you tell it that the gray photo is your neutral gray. Once you’ve done that you tell it to apply that to all your photos and they’re fixed like magic.

I did a lot of tests between Expodisk and the color checker grids and found that with the Expo disc it got very very close to the color checker grids. In fact close enough that I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two so I just stopped using the color checker grid. Also the Expo disc is way more reliable than a gray card because it is guaranteed to be a complete flat neutral view of the light not influenced by anything from the environment. Sometimes with a gray card there will be something reflecting on the card, say a T-shirt or the grass or a yellow building, and then that influences the color and makes it not the real color of the light around you.

In addition to this the Expo disc is only $44. Color correction cards will run you $250 or more sometimes. This is a small price for something that saves hours and hours of time correcting photos in post.

Specular Highlights

My solution for most of the highlight and reflection problems is to use a zoom lens that gets me far enough back so that the reflections don’t really reach the camera lens. This has to be combined with moving either the painting or the light around so that way the angle of light causes any reflections to not match up with the angle of the lens. By getting far enough away I’m able to make that process a lot easier.

I also will still use an umbrella that’s soft to bounce the light onto the painting. You get worse specular highlights when use a very strong light pointed directly at the painting. When you use a light bounced off of the soft umbrella you get more diffused highlights.

Another thing I have used but still need to figure out exactly how it works is a circular polarizer. This is a filter that goes on your camera lens, and has a front part that you can turn. The filter is a lot like a pair of sunglasses and what happens is when you turn the polarizer the light that gets reflected off of the painting will get bent or turned away in certain spots. It basically blocks polarized light, or something. Actually I have no idea how this thing works but that is what I read somewhere. This will reduce a lot of reflections and highlights, but it drops the amount of light down and also can mess with the colors. What you have to do is set the polarizer to block the highlights and then you put the Expodisc in front of it to correct the temperature, and then you still have to load it into Lightroom in order to tweak the colors a bit.

You have to do this extra color correction because the polarizer will emphasize greens or blues or other colors depending on how you turn it. While you’re trying to use the polarizer to remove reflections you may have to position it such that it emphasizes the greens. That isn’t any particular condition of the light temperature, so you end up having to go into light room anyways and change the amount of green to compensate for the polarizer.

Light and Dark Balance

The first thing I’ll do if I want to take a photo of the painting with very dark darks and very light lights is to take multiple exposures and merge them. This is fairly complicated and most software that does this ends up doing a terrible job when you’re doing it to a painting. Most of the software that does HDR is designed for people who do landscape photography where you want everything to be in the middle range of the color spectrum. When you’re taking a photo of a painting that is high contrast, you typically aren’t trying to put everything into the middle range but rather trying to represent the high and low of the painting.

Some cameras do a very good job of in-camera HDR. My Sony camera will actually do a decent job of taking three exposures and merging them together. It seems to work well because it doesn’t do anything crazy with the three exposures and the merging. When I use HDR software it seems to want to go for the most insane dramatic merging possible.

What I use the most is Dynamic Range Optimization or DRO. DRO combined with good light from far away will typically be able to render the lights and darks fairly well and balance the amount of exposure within the whole painting. I think the reason that DRO works better is that it’s not trying to be very dramatic about the amount of information it’s trying to save in both the lights and darks. Typically what I’ll do is I’ll take a photo with high DRO and then with none, then compare the two in light room and see which one to go with.

My Current Process

My current process is fairly simple:

  1. Put the painting in the stable support that doesn’t show up in the image.
  2. Put the camera on a tripod far enough away that I don’t see highlights.
  3. Adjust the position of the light remove any other highlights.
  4. Use the Expo disc to measure the temperature of the light.
  5. Set my camera to do exposure brackets.
  6. Then using a delay timer take several shots adjusting the exposure and position of the camera until I’m happy

However, I will say that my real process most of the time because I’m lazy is this:

  1. Get done with the painting.
  2. Take out my best camera.
  3. Forget to use the Expodisc to check the light.
  4. Take the best photo I can without a tripod.
  5. Then load it on my phone, fix it with basic Apple tools, and toss it up on Instagram and Twitter.

In the future I’m going to probably stick to my earlier process and improve the quality of my photos but honestly I am pretty lazy.


You Don’t Need Talent To Enjoy It

I bought some really nice flowers yesterday and made sure they were not blooming yet.  It didn’t matter because the damn things start blooming about 2 seconds after I put them in water and that means they will be dead by tomorrow.  I had to crank out a quick painting of them today, but I also had to work on my books.  I setup an easel in the living room and I would use the painting as a reward for getting exercises done.

That’s the only photo I saved from the painting. It came out terrible. The only thing that worked about this setup was that it made me want to get exercises done.  I’m definitely going to use that hack in the near future.  Other than that, this painting was a total absolute turd of paint.  I could not get the values right, the color, nothing.  Flowers and portraits are my most difficult subjects for sure, which is why I practice them the most.  It’s the subtlety that gets me and requires my concentration, and I have too much of a heavy hand and a love of sloppy thick paint to pull that off without effort.

I wouldn’t say I have any particular talent at painting.  I’m definitely not a genius and I put in a lot of work to be even moderately alright at it.  I know a ton of tricks and I’m fascinated by the technology used by European painters from the 1500-1800s, but that’s not talent.  That’s just being able to read some books and do what they say.  If you sat me down in front of a person, and said I’d get $200 if I can do a decent likeness of the person in 4 hours I’d just laugh at you.  Maybe I’d pull it off 1 time out of 10.

I’m also not necessarily a “visual person”.   I do these weird experiments where I practice painting an object from memory, which you would think makes me a genius with some kind of photographic memory.  Nope.  I read a book on how to learn to paint from memory and did what it said, then adapted it based on research from other books and articles on memorization.  Everyone could learn how to do it if they put in the time and believed they could.

I love to paint.  I just love everything about it.  The feel of the thick paint going on.  The way I can use color to trick the eye into seeing something that’s not there. The random times when it clicks and I groove right into a damn good painting without any effort. Painting outside and talking to people.  Everything about it is enjoyable and I could give a fuck if I have any talent or not.  I’m enjoying myself and I get to give them to friends.   Sometimes I sell them. Lots of times I just toss them.

It’s all about the moment and the challenge.  The feeling of that meditation that paint gives me.  My oh my do I love self-portraits for this.  Self-portraits and landscape painting quite literally saved my life at a time when everything was sad and dark.  Doing paintings of my face helped me reconnect with who I am. Painting outside got me out of bed.

So many people think you need talent to enjoy something, but I’ll tell you having zero talent is liberating.  You can stop worrying about the end result and just enjoy the process and experience.  Just go for it.  It really doesn’t matter if what you create is any good.  All that matters is if you learn something for the next time.



I Moved to Miami

I moved to San Francisco in 2010 to work at a startup.  At the time I was living in NYC and the technology hacking scene there was utter garbage.  It was dominated by these stupid “artists” who had a strangle hold on the local scene and ostracized anyone who wasn’t cool, hip, GGG, libertine hacker guys like them.  I still remember wondering where the hell they all got their thick rimmed black glasses?  Did they rob a Warby Parker or something?

At first living in San Francisco was great, and it really was the technologist’s paradise I envisioned.  Then the tech bros showed up.  As the money in tech prolapsed into the local economy the brogrammers in the industry confused their acquisition of a loan with being real super dudes.  This the fueled the anti-intellectual libertines of San Francisco to skip a couple burning man orgies and fight the brogrammers for the intestines of the city.

This really makes the city an ugly place to live and work, and I hope in the future technology companies simply avoid San Francisco.  Not because San Francisco is necessarily a bad city.  The entire bay area definitely has a huge problem with corruption and graft, more than any other city I’ve lived in.  Rather, this constant fight between the wannabe libertines just trying to get whipped at The Citadel, and the brogrammers living off Zuck’s scraps, ends up ruining what could be a fantastic place to live.

San Francisco will always be a bitter sweet place for me in my life.  On the one hand, my books took off there and I was able to start a new career doing something I really enjoy.  I also learned to paint, which I will always cherish for the rest of my life.  I loved some women so deeply it still makes me sad that they didn’t work out in the end.  San Francisco was also where I had the most terrible heart breaks of my life.  Where I saw the most violence and governmental indifference I’d ever seen.  Where I encountered groups of people who abused and fed off their peers for tiny scraps of small points on worthless startups, and other groups who attacked their fellow denizens for simply having a job.

My fondest memory of San Francisco will be the sunny days I spent at Union Square, playing guitars I made and talking to random wonderful weird regulars.  Union Square healed the hands broken by a terrible NYC teacher and his “improved” scales.  Without that warm sunshine and an open place to just do scales for hours I would have given up on guitar entirely.  Now my hands str all fixed up and I’ll always remember what that felt like.

I’ll also remember that I first learned to draw at Fort Mason on March 13, 2014.  I mean I think that’s right, but that’s close enough for the memory.  I’ll remember sitting there, looking at the docks, drawing the scene, feeling that blissful peace I have when I paint or draw now, listening to my lover hum and draw along with me.  It’ll always be a permanent loving memory for me that helps me realize not everything in San Francisco was bad.

I’ll also miss all the incredible museums and art schools.  I owe the Legion of Honor, the De Young, the SF MOMA, and the SFAI so much for teaching me about art from all time periods.  If you live there and you aren’t going to the museums on a regular basis you are truly missing out on one of the gems of the US museum world.  If you can also pop a flight down to LA and visit the Getty you definitely should.  The Getty is a work of art on its own and I probably went there 20 times for whole days just because.

New York is that lover I sometimes check out to see if she’s doing alright.  She was actually cool and way out of my league. I just wasn’t cool enough for her at the time.  San Francisco will always be that lover who made me feel awesome and successful while cheating on me and calling me a “fag nerd”.  Those places are all over for me now, except for the occasional visit.  Goodbye, it was fun…almost…I mean yeah you know what I mean.

Why Miami?

The first reason is simply it was time for a change.  I actually wanted to leave a few years ago but things always kept me there.  Relationships, art schools, work, or just too many guitars I didn’t want to ship.  My time in San Francisco was very lonely and my only social interactions were with the women I dated, so it ended up that relationships meant a lot to me even if they were flawed and doomed to fail.  Once there was a break in this pattern I was able to finally plan a move.

The second reason is I have a goal of living and studying art overseas in the next few years.  There’s one tiny wrinkle in this:  California is ruthless about collecting taxes from people who live overseas.  Everyone I talked to said definitely move to a state without income tax before you move overseas or California will grab your bank account without any warning.  I did some research, and most states without income tax are freezing cold or fairly lame.  Florida wasn’t that appealing, but Miami seemed really great when I visited.  Clean, modern, everyone is generally happy, great weather, and easy to live here.  I don’t even need a car here.

I’m also looking to improve my landscape painting, marine painting, and art in general, and Miami has a killer art scene.   I’d say way better than San Francisco in terms of actual art sales, although so far the Museums here are nothing compared to San Francisco’s.  Miami just fits my idea of a new place to paint different landscapes and improve my artistic practice while also saving money on rent.

The final reason is I wanted a place that wasn’t so pissed off and depressed all the time.  I tell people when you live in a city you can sort of feel a personality permeating everything.  The personality of New York was a bipolar court jester.  There were days you could tell NYC was pissed off at you, other days where Gotham loved you like a mother, and most of the time it was fucking hilarious.  San Francisco’s personality is definitely that of a depressed but brilliant failed artist.  It was always sad that it wasn’t considered a greater city and jealous everyone overlooked it’s good qualities, so it took that out on everyone living there.   I guess in many ways I kind of adopted the personalities of the cities while I lived there.

I don’t know what Miami is like yet, but I’m getting the sense that Miami actually doesn’t give a fuck what I think about her.  Miami is looking too fabulous to care.



My Audition For Silicon Valley Script Writer

I love the show Silicon Valley.  It’s a fresh trendy take on what it means to be a nerd struggling to bring a startup into the world with evil biz dudes ruining it all.  This latest season has been full of memorable scenes with Richard stuttering, falling down, and getting his ass kicked by business guys because he fell down.  It’s really nailing the whole Male Nerd Beta dynamic and I feel that this is an area I can contribute my ample writing chops.

With that in mind I’m posting this short scene as my entry to being on the writing team.  Keep in mind I don’t really know how to format a script. I’m usually spending my time writing books that turn normal people into stuttering, prat falling, pathetic nerds like on Silicon Valley.  I also can’t really remember the names of all the characters but that’s probably just my faulty memory circuits and has nothing to do with how memorable those characters are.  They are written incredibly well and everyone else probably remembers who they are no problem.  But, this is just an audition.  I hope I nail it.

ACT I: The Crisis

Richard:  Runs into the break room where everyone else is debating whether to throw out a box of string cheese or eat it.  

“Gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu gu—”

Erlich: “Richard, are you trying to say ‘guys’?”

Richard: “Ye ye ye ye ye ye ye ye”  Stumbles taking a step forward and trips over his two feet, careening to the ground twisting both ankles and a wrist.  Tries to help himself up on the pool table covered in Erlich’s weed but slips again, smashing his mouth on the side of the table and knocking all of his teeth out.

Gilfoyle: In an apathetic deadpan, “Damn Richard, that looks like it hurt. Strangely your mouth looks like a vagina now.”

Pakistani Guy: “I’m Pakistani!”

Richard: Stands up, mouth full of blood and vagina like.  Both feet wobbly and left wrist even more limp making him look even more asexual and effeminate.

“N n n n n n n n n…”

Old Biz Alpha: Walks into the room and seeing Richard says, “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Richard you look even more like a programmer with your vagina mouth. Everybody, I want you to bash your teeth out so you can be more beta like Richard here. I’m sure that will get us more sales.”  Pulls out a cigar and lights it on the ass of a stripper who followed him in from the Sales Team Fun Room where all the sales guys are getting lap dances and looking like pure beautiful alphas.

Erlich: “Well boss, you know I don’t actually work here but I agree with you that having all the programmers sporting vagina mouths would definitely make the sales team look more alpha.”  Pan camera to stunning fit well dressed totally heterosexual alpha sales guy getting a lap dance from a tiny Asian woman.

Richard: Shakes head pathetically and pulls out a knife motioning to his groin.

Old Biz Alpha: “What an excellent idea Richard.  Everyone, bash your teeth so you have a vagina mouth and then cut your dicks off so that you look even more asexual and pathetic.”

Pakistani Guy: “I’m Pakistani!”

All the nerds look at each other concerned then shrug and proceed to bash their teeth out on the pool table. Erlich smokes more weed. Richard pulls his pants down to cut his dick off.

Old Biz Alpha: Walks out of the room to join the sales team and get a lap dance before impregnating all of the strippers with one shot from his super alpha cock.  “Good job asexuals! Way to be team players.”

Gilfoyle: Stuttering through a vagina mouth, “Ho ho how a a are w w w we ggggoing to g g get rev revenge?”

Pakistani Guy: With even more beta vagina mouth, “I I I I am..” trips and falls just standing there shattering his skull and knocking his beta penis off.

Everyone else laughing and pointing.

Cut to Old Biz Alpha show a red light flare up in his eyes with a maniacal laugh while getting a blow job.

End Scene

Mr. Teflon and the Failed Dream of Meritocracy

You can either write software or you can’t. I’m not saying that people who can are special. Hell, total absolute complete fucking idiots with dried husks for skulls write code. Anyone can learn to code, but if you haven’t learned to code then it’s really not something you can fake. I can find you out by sitting you down and having your write some code while I watch. A faker wouldn’t know how to use a text editor, run code, what to type, and other simple basic things. Whether you can do it well is a whole other difficult complex evaluation for an entirely different topic, but the difference between “can code” and “cannot” is easy to spot.

Painting is another skill that you can either do or you can’t. Again, this doesn’t mean the people who can paint are magical special beings who repel thetans with cadmium coated auras. I’ve found, just like programmers, some of the dumbest fucking people in the universe are painters. Hell, I can paint, which says a lot about how good you have to be to be able to “paint”. It is a difficult skill to fake, and if I sat someone down and told them to paint I could spot a fake immediately. The faker wouldn’t know how to mix, what colors do what, how much to put out, what brush to use, and other simple mechanics.

There are a great many skills where you can either do them or you can’t, and that’s where the concept of meritocracy comes from. In a meritocracy it’s supposed to be that the only thing that matters is you can do the thing, and then competition is based on how well people do that thing. In these environments you frequently hear of people who are just awesome at something getting tenure track positions at universities to teach it without any other formal education. In art I know of two professors who did this, mostly because they were just crazy bad ass at drawing or painting. Didn’t matter that they had zero degrees in art. All that mattered was they could do the thing, and they were awesome at it.

The appeal of a meritocracy for weirdos like me and many of my friends is that we’re frequently judged for things that have absolutely nothing to do with who we are. People have all sorts of disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, appearances, strange interests, and personality quirks that make them the targets of slick talking douchebags with angelic faces. These pretty motherfuckers get away with literal murder while a weirdo like me gets death threats because I don’t like Haskell. In my ideal environment, it wouldn’t matter what you look like, only that you can do the job and how well you do it. That’s a meritocracy.

Obviously part of “doing the job” is being able to work with others, but that cuts both ways. I have to shower and not invade people’s personal space, and you have to not comment on my fucking clothes or make fun of how I talk. I have to be polite and say thank you and not hit people, and you have to stay off my computer and not walk around the office with an 8” hunting knife. I have to work with people on a team and help folks out, and you have to not assume I’m gay because I like to paint.

In general, things in a business work better if you follow Zed’s #1 Rule Of Business:
Don’t shit where you eat.

You like hunting knives and guns? That’s your personal shit. Do it at home or a gun range. You like weekends full of BDSM sex with guys dressed in unicorn costumes? Shit in your own mouth at home. You like to smoke weed and think the girl in accounting would be a great addition to your bi-sexual poly relationship? Super fecal. Definitely do it at home. You’re a super religious Christian who has a mandate from God to convert the masses? Yup, turds galore. Do it at Union Square. You can totally be into these things, and tell people about it, and be yourself, but if you want the work environment and the meritocracy to function then you have to vanilla up to a point and reduce the drama. That way everyone has a nice drama free day and can just work their damn job without worrying about being harassed because you’re a freak (and they leave you alone even though you’re a freak).

Incidentally all of these things have happened to me at places I’ve worked, and that’s your first clue about why the meritocracy is such bullshit. Everyone who claims they have a meritocracy then uses this to act like total fucking assholes because if you extend the concept of meritocracy too far you can excuse any obnoxious ass behavior. The real result of a meritocracy is to craft a character I like to call Mr. Teflon. When you read those words you probably had a specific individual pop into your mind, but let me explain Mr. Teflon to you.

Mr. Teflon is that guy who is a complete total fucking asshole and a fuck up, but for some reason he never gets fired. Maybe he did something heroic in the past, or maybe he has pictures of the CEO giving goats rim jobs. Who knows, but this is the kind of guy who can cost the company $500k through his own incompetence, grab the ass of random women, never show up to work, yell and scream at managers, walk around with a knife, hack other people’s computers, and be an insulting prick to everyone and still keep his fucking job. Nothing sticks to him ‘cause he’s coated in teflon.

My favorite Mr. Teflon was Rajiv, who would troll people’s accounts looking for nude pictures, kept crashing the fucking site because he hand edited servers as root, kept the network architecture a secret so everyone had to depend on him, clearly was doing coke at work, demanded that employees he just didn’t like be fired, and would incite near violence against anyone who tried to manage him. In one incident he spent weeks on IM with the team undermining a product manager until finally the CEO had to fire the product manager because this Mr. Teflon managed to make everyone hate the product manager. This guy was a total fucking asshole, but one time back in the day he managed to figure out a hack on OS X that nobody else did so he gained a position of power and nobody would fire him. He later would cost the company insane amounts of money, but hey meritocracy right? Gotta keep motherfuckers around who did a good job once way back in the day because it’s all about who does the best job!

Another great Mr. Teflon was Chris. My first encounter with Chris was walking into the office after I’d been there 3 days to him screaming at the VP of Engineering, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Leave me alone you fucking asshole! You better shut the fuck up!” Why? The VP of Engineering was trying to get him to write unit tests. Chris was a short loser little asshole who had saved the company once, so nobody would fire him. Eventually he walked up to me and asked, “Do you know Thomas?” Thomas was a guy who hated me online, and I thought it was weird Chris would ask me about him. I said I did and then Chris started typing quickly on his laptop with a weird grin on his face. I strolled by casually and shoulder surfed him talking to Thomas on IRC telling him about me. He actually hunted down one of my enemies and violated my privacy to inform on me! That’s fucking crazy. But, he was Mr. Teflon there so I couldn’t get rid of him.

Over the months this asshole Chris would constantly ask me what I thought of Thomas. Since I knew that he knew Thomas I fed him huge lines of bullshit and misinformation, but one day Chris walks up and asks, “How do you store your passwords?” He was really freaked out asking me this, like he knew he was doing something wrong. He stammered and didn’t look me in the eyes, and I realized, holy shit, this guy is going on my computer and giving Thomas my password database, if he hasn’t done so already. I immediately started taking my computer home and changed all my passwords, and then other weird shit started happening. One day all SSL certificates to gchat and gmail stopped working, and when I started yelling about it Chris ran to his computer really quick in a panic. I started bringing my own WiFi hotspot to work. He came to work one day carrying a massive hunting knife, ‘cause, you know, that’s totally appropriate in an office.

Chris was an insulting, obnoxious, stupid fucking loser who probably violated my privacy and handed who knows what information to an enemy of mine online while walking around with knives, screaming at leadership and doing no work, but did he get fired? Nope, because, meritocracy, and Chris had done like, one thing 2 years prior that meant he could be the absolute worst most abusive employee ever and never be fired.

I’m done with meritocracy after encountering Mr. Teflon assholes in every supposed meritocracy and seeing how that word ends up doing nothing more than keep barely capable losers who get lucky once in jobs despite their insanely fucked up behavior. The failure of a meritocracy is that it has become a way to abuse people. Originally it was so that people who were different could keep their jobs in the face of mediocre losers who felt everyone should be just like them to have a job. Now it’s used by mediocre losers to keep other mediocre losers in jobs just because they’re all alike.

The problem with throwing the meritocracy completely out is programming is a skills based job, and like I said you can either do it or you can’t. Nobody wants the inverse situation where some mediocre asshole from HR denies promotions to people because they don’t have the right education. The inverse of a meritocracy is organizations that are obsessed with certification and not on results where HR controls who gets promoted and rewarded. These environments breed idiots who can fake their way through jobs until they’re in a position of power because they got a degree from Haavaaad and have a pretty smile. The inverse of meritocracy is just as abusive and rewards people for their socioeconomic backgrounds rather than giving them a chance to shine despite where they come from.

The upside to HR run bureacratic companies is they don’t put up with Mr. Teflon. These places have procedures and policies that you have to follow. They have sexual harassment training and dress codes. They may be vanilla, but if I’d told HR that Chris was walking around with a fucking hunting knife, going on my laptop and not working he’d have been fired quick. I don’t advocate the bureaucracy of HR run companies, but fuck me if that’s the only way to get rid of Mr. Teflon then let’s do this! I was in the Army. I’ve worked for the government. I can fill out some forms in triplicate to get rid of that complete loser. I can put on a suit. Hell yeah.

Actually, I’ll just work for myself since that’s the ultimate meritocracy.

The Defense of The Personal

I’m sitting in a cafe desperately trying to not listen to the terrible poetry being read behind me. That “poetic voice” with the stilted broken weird inflection and rapid stream of consciousness streaming from an unaware hippy who thinks his monthly poetry jam slam thing makes him such a deep and introspective person. The poetry is deeply personal but only as deep as the person who writes it, which is to say if I have to listen to this dumbass singing another song about being a handy man for the last 30 years I’m going to lose my shit.

Reading poetry is like explaining jokes, except the person reading poetry is deeply attached to what he’s doing. This is him baring his soul to an audience and since the poem is about his failing business, lost wife, dead father, forlorn lovers, and other personal tragedies nobody can say anything. He can totally suck and everyone just grins and says, “Oh man Joe, that song was great!” Even though that song was exactly the same as the last one he “sang” without any accompaniment or any form of musical skill. By attaching a personal emotional connection to what he’s created he has shielded himself from criticism.

I see this in art classes too. We’re looking at a stupid video installation, and lord man do I hate video installation. But this one looked like it was making fun of video installation, not really attempting to make anything meaningful but just being random to be random. We secretly know that most abstract contemporary artists just do random shit until someone buys it, but apparently verbalizing this truth into the world was a cardinal sin of art education. My teacher (who I admire very much) admonished me since this video screen with a dinosaur bone in front and coated with birthday wrapping paper could be an expression of the time the artist was raped by a gang of roving oompa loompas one fateful night by the Salton Sea.

I doubt this artist actually thought that way, but there’s no way to know. Because abstract creative works are open to interpretation, an artist can crank out total randomness and then back into the deep personal meaning to shield it from criticism and sell it. If you craft a sculpture out of hunks of random metal from a ’57 Chevy because you’re a white dude who likes cars then you can be ripped to shreds by an art critic for being a typical dude. If you cut apart a ’57 Chevy as a statement on rape, race, religion, sexuality or anything deeply personal then you have the perfect shield. What critic wants to be the guy who ripped into a poor artist who was raped by his father’s religion’s sexualty?

We all know that most of this contemporary art is created simply because it sells and most of the artists have zero actual real emotional attachment to what they make. They have emotional attachment to the fucking money. What these artists want is to be able to put their works out there and sell them while at the same time avoiding any criticism which might suggest they aren’t as genuine as they claim, or that their art isn’t very good. This is unfair to the audience because it removes our power to react to the art in a genuine way, even if that reaction is, “Fuck that sucks.”

I see this same defense of the personal among open source authors. I love it when people make things and publish what they make, but I’m a firm believer in living and dying by the sword, and if you’re publishing your work, well people are going to comment on it. If you don’t want that then don’t put your shit out there. Go find a little group that will keep it quiet until you can handle it. Then when you’re ready put it out there and be ready to eat some shit, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from putting myself out there over and over it’s that people who publish frequently are easy targets for total fucking assholes. My rule is, learn to fight the assholes on the merits of your work or their personal agendas, and then listen and adapt to everyone else’s thoughts as part of the public expression experience.

With open source they have this perverse defense where they put their software out there, which is just a tool, nothing personal about it. Art or poetry I can see being inspired by tragedy and hardship. Software? Shit, the only hardship that inspires my software is another project sucking so bad I craft something better in a fit of rage. You think I hate poetry? You should see my rage at shitty software. What these authors do is claim their open source project is a labor of love and that they poured their lives into this project! It’s their baby! How dare you say it has bugs or that it sucks! Who cares if it’s full of turd cookies they did it for free! You have no right to criticize it! My daughter is dying! I have cancer!

The same thing you were probably saying about these self-absorb pretentious artists and poets defending their art from criticism with the mantel of personal tragedy applies to open source. You can’t go around saying that simply having invested your time in it means that nobody can get pissed at you for writing buggy shitty code. You can definitely get angry at someone exploiting you, that’s for sure. Some company abusing your good will to further their goals is wrong.

But if someone finds a bug in your shit, and it ruins their fucking day, then it’s your fault and you should apologize and fucking fix it. That’s what I do. I handled 330 tickets for all of my books last month, pro-bono, and apologized to everyone that found something stupid I did. One person was an asshole to me, being abusive and insulting to programmers (while at the same time trying to become one) so I refunded his money and told him to go fuck himself. Life’s too short to put up with one of those assholes. Everyone else I helped out as best I could and actually apologized when I fucked up bad. I didn’t take it personally when people were having a hard time because it was my fault they were having a hard time. I felt sorry for them and did my best to make it better.

This defense of the personal in open source is so bad that twice I’ve had project leaders tell me strangely personal tragic shit about them to keep me from commenting publicly about their projects. One told me he was dying of cancer, and another told me that his daughter was dying. Yes, they told me this so that I wouldn’t say their project sucked. That’s how fucking nuts defense of the personal is. I would never tell a total stranger something like that just to protect my business, but these two idiots did. Interestingly enough, neither of them died, and I believe both of them were lying, but I still stopped saying something because I didn’t want to be a dick. But seriously, what kind of an asshole uses a kid with cancer to avoid fixing a fucking bug?

Liberal and Conservative in Painting

I’m working on a new painting series for a painting class involving landscapes and abstraction when it occurred to me that I could classify paintings across the dimensions of liberal and conservative. This isn’t really how you’d categorize paintings, but more how I could break them down as an exercise in exploring an abstract painting process that pushes me to create something different. This blog post is mostly my notes on how I plan to conceptualize this project than any form of critique of art.

To get started, here’s a simple abstraction of the Empire State Building that I did to play around with using pastels then making those into oil paintings:

I did this by first dorking around with pastels using the shapes from a photo. Once I had something I liked I then set it next to the canvas and tried to copy it. Fairly simple process, but I’d like to explore something a little different based on a joke I made a while back.

You see, I figured out that what Americans seem to like is a form of impressionism that is “correctly drawn, sloppily painted”. I was in this seminar where a guy painted a painting very well, everything drawn and painted solidly, then he took a kleenex and flopped it around on the canvas to fuck it up. It was if he couldn’t bring himself to paint it sloppy but knew that a sloppy painting with correct proportions and perspective would sell well. It gives it a dreamlike quality that seems to permeate American Impressionism, especially landscapes.

Thinking further it’s not really “correctly drawn, sloppily painted” but more of a contention between conservative and liberal, which to me very much defines the American experience. The drawing is conservative, with things in the correct places, building in perfect perspective, everything “right”, but then that perfection is thrown out because it’s boring. To make a conservatively drawn painting interesting the artist paints it liberally, altering colors and applying paint in sloppy application, or just fucking it up with a kleenex. It’s a safe cliché that lets you be conservative and prove you can paint correctly, but you just decide not too because you’re totally a liberal artist libertine type dude.

I then started to wonder if you can use these spectrums of liberal and conservative to view or create other paintings. What if you can put the drawing and paint application into categories of liberally done or conservatively done and then explore various styles?

Drawing, Conservative Painting

This is most easily demonstrated as hyperrealist art or art that attempts to be a realist representation of the actual thing. Richard Estes would be a great example of the Conservative/Conservative extreme, and then you can get farther from that until you dance on the edge of the spectrum with artists like Quang Ho and Richard Schmid who are sometimes only slight conservative but never totally liberal in their drawing. For many in the American art market this brand of art is bourgeois and boring art that only your grandma likes. You could even go so far as to put a lot of Salvador Dali’s work into this category since his paintings are nearly perfectly rendered in drawing and painting, just the scenes and concepts are very surrealist.

Another group who falls into this category is illustrators, who are fascinated by lines, perfection, straightness, and the fantasy of photorealistic drawings even though the real world does not have lines between things. They are conservative in both drawing and “coloring” in the vast majority of their artwork.

Liberal Drawing, Liberal Painting

One the other end of the spectrum would be artist who simply don’t give a total fuck about representation like artists such as Jackson Pollock. The derogatory term for this work is “wall decoration” since the random patterns seem to end up being props on the walls of the wealthy, but this motif seems to fit into the ideal of the full free liberal libertine artist just letting go. I’ve experienced where if I just paint at random and pretend I’m letting go that people seem to think I’m crafting genius when it’s just random bullshit. These are the paintings that you frequently see and then read the artist statements with their abuse of “vis-a-vis” and roll your eyes.

Some people counter the claims of bullshit with the thought that a painting doesn’t have to be about something. I think it was Jackson Pollock who said you don’t walk into a fucking rose garden and ask what it means. You just go in there because it’s pretty and you like it. Paintings can be just like that and don’t have to be about something. In general this is the far end of abstraction where you are taking and painting for painting’s sake, and not even trying to be accurate or representational.

Liberal Drawing, Conservative Painting

In the middle we then have the idea of the drawing being liberal, or fucked up on purpose, but having the rest of the painting being more realistic. The classic example of this is Cubism, where the drawing is a mashup of all the angles of the thing, but that the painting, coloring, edges are taken from the real things. Salvador Dali and his early cubism then his later surrealism can also fit here. Sure he was a demanding painter who wanted a realistic looking feel to his painting, but then he would alter the drawing considerably to create surrealist landscapes. You could also put MC Escher into this category, or anyone who alters perspective but keeps realistic shading and color.

Conservative Drawing, Liberal Painting

We then come to nearly much of the American Impressionism I was talking about, where the drawing is bang on accurate, but then they purposefully screw up the painting to make it seem expressive. I mentioned Quang Ho and Richard Schmid, but they are more typically in this camp closer to the conservative end. A great many other painters are much more liberal in their painting, and you’ll typically hear these artist says, “If you get the values and drawing right you can do anything with color.” They also alter or break edges in places that don’t make sense visually, but because the drawing is right people find it fascinating.


Clearly these are just generalizations to help me wrap my head around the concept. Think of them as me talking out loud about how to explore abstractions and the various skills of painting I want to attempt. Obviously you can find an artist who might straddle two or more of these, and I even can think of many. In fact, maybe that’s where the interest lies, in art that straddles the various lines in interesting ways or mixes these up. However, I’m talking cliché here, not original works. It’s a cliché to paint a painting nearly perfectly then bust out a kleenex to make it interesting by screwing up the paint. It’s also a cliché to numb your hands before you paint because that’s your “process” and weird process is currently selling like hotcakes. It’s yet another cliché to slap paint on a canvas randomly and then declare it a statement about the plight of the poor while you sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars to rich asshole who will lock it in his million dollar apartment.

The Project

And lately I’ve been thinking that I’d like to explore these clichés and see what I can do with them, so I’m going to attempt a project that will explore these four dimensions.

1. I’ll use four canvases of the exact same dimensions for each subject.
2. I’ll then attempt one of the dimensions, as in the Empire State Building painting in this post which is more Liberal/Liberal but could be even more so.
3. With that anchor I’ll attempt the other dimension by only changing one of them. So with the above I’d do either a Conservative/Liberal painting, or a Liberal/Conservative painting, but not a Conservative/Conservative one.
4. I then do the other dimension, so in this case I do a Liberal/Conservative having done a Conservative/Liberal painting.
5. Finally I finish it off with the last remaining dimension and (in this case) paint a Conservative/Conservative painting.

The key is a methodical exploration of the subject by altering what about the painting is liberal or conservatively done. It will help me find out what is more fun or more interesting, and possibly if there’s a way to reach one from the other. Is it easier to make an abstraction from a super conservative painting, or is the inverse better?

I’ll start with this Empire State Building painting and tonight I’m going to attempt a Conservatively Drawn, but Liberally Painted version of it to see how this concept works out.