The warmer weather is here, which means everyone is heading out to the beach. The pace of work is slowing down and the galleries are empty… which makes it the perfect time to ramp up productivity in the studio. I am going to attempt to start the season off with a good blog post that will give a little insight into the latest sunbather painting, and then talk about what is coming next.

Like most artists, I have a lot of opinions about what makes for good and interesting art. Painters may be some of the worst when it comes to this, focusing so intensly on their own processes that they start to lose site of the value of other approaches and philosophies. Personally, I try to rise above all these squabbles and would like to think I approach all art with an open mind, regardless of medium, style, or pedigree. Unfortunately, I know that I do not always succeed. As I have become more and more focused on realist painting, I have started to develop a distaste for some works that do not fit into my own narrow ideals. I have started to discount some art unfairly without giving it the attention necessary to make a real decision.

Now, I know what you are thinking. If you are anything like me, you are already expecting to scroll past this, roll your eyes and avoid another cliched argument against abstraction by some puffed up realist painter. That is not what I’m going to do here ? people making those kinds of arguments always sound like the fools who live near our southern borders and get bent out of shape when someone is speaking Spanish. Like any serious snob, my developing art biases are hyper local. As I worked on refining my own techniques for painting, building lots of texture and brushwork into my portraits, I started to lose my tolerance for a certain variety of highly blended and perfectly smooth paintings. Not the flattened simplified stuff, and not classical realism, but somewhere in the middle there seems to be a growing trend of paintings that just feel like mediocre snapshots, without all the pesky details. The kind of paintings that look really impressive and realistic in photos online, but really fall flat on their face when you approach them in person. (Can you sense my disgust?)

In any case, I have seen the error in my ways.

As I approach my own paintings, I have realized that my personal preference for technique does not make sense for all paintings. When I was making paintings that were more closely related to traditional portraiture, the buildup of textures and loose brushstrokes made sense and was directly tied to the intent of the work. With paintings like the sunbathers, it was not really related to the message, it was an unnecessary embellishment. So as I approached this latest sunbather, I made an effort to put my ideas on interesting painting technique aside, and focus on the actual intent of the painting. The resulting painting falls somewhere in the middle. Plenty of (potentially unnecessary) detail, but a smoother more idyllic finish. As always, I am interested to hear what people think of this.

maria_sun_2

Next I am going to start two new pieces. First a collaborative portrait project with an awesome artist, where I get to throw away everything I just learned and paint like I really enjoy painting. (I will talk more about this soon). Then, I am going to dive back into the new series of portraits derived partly from images sent to me via text messages, which is what I want to talk more about now.

Let me just admit something here: I don’t like the first text message painting. I got a lot of great feedback, and as an experiment I think it was a huge success, but as a painting, I just don’t like the results. There are just too many things I want to change, too many things I would do differently, and most importantly, just too many things going on.

private_message_nick_ward

I like works of art that feel honest. A lot of artists make work that doesn’t feel that way to me. They make work with clever ideas and interesting jokes. They make work that takes on important subjects. But somehow, the work lacks a feeling of honesty and emotional attachment, which I think is very important. There is no question that this series of text message paintings has the potential to go either way, and I want to make sure that it end up on the right side of that divide. The real problem with my first attempt at this concept is that it was a little too much clever idea and not quite enough honest emotion. I hope to change that with the next attempt. I want to simplify the imagery and focus more on the contrasting images. I want to make the next one better and, I need some help. The first attempts used hired models which is fine, but I always prefer to work with people who are more connected to the final paintings and who have less experience being in front of the camera.

So I am looking for people who want to participate in the next round of these paintings.

I think most people that are still reading probably know the concept behind the paintings, but just in case here it is. The idea is to paint to contrasting portraits of the same person. First a more explicit image just like one that would be sent to a romantic partner (bonus points if you can recycle one that actually has been) will be painted from the photo. Second, a more formal traditional portrait will be created. If you want to long version check out this post.

If you think you have any interest in helping, get in touch and I will fill you in on the rest. The naughty parts can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home. I don’t need to or want to be there (and the photos don’t actually have to be that naughty), but I would need to be able to get to you to do the traditional portrait.

Is everyone disappointed now that I got through that entire post without using the word sext?

Like a lot of artists, I have spent many hours thinking about (worrying about) how to make a living with my talents. I am far from an expert here but, I think that it is generally accepted that best paths are either, get a job that is somewhat related to art, or find a gallery to sell your work. Since my drive to make art is a whole hell of a lot stronger than my drive to stand around talking about it, teaching was out and, those thoughts drifted towards the ideal gallery situation for my art.

For a long time, I always came to the same conclusion. I can do just about everything that any gallery that would take me is offering.

Now, before we go any further with this, let me give a little background on that decision and, for those of you who think that I am foolhardy, stick around until the end. In my relatively short time attempting to be a professional artist, I have done pretty well on my own. For the last few years, most of my income has come from art. I am pretty far from being able to quit my day job but, to the point where I can spend a majority of my time in the studio. Even better, I have managed to get some good press and put my art in front of a lot of peoples eyes. This isn’t written here to brag, just to outline some things that I have been able to do for myself, no gallery required. This isn’t written here to brag, just to let you know what I was thinking when I started asking, for 50% of the money, what am I going to gain?

And there is the problem. When you are relatively unknown, like I am, galleries obviously don’t want to take too much of a risk on you. Most of my talks with galleries have reflected this. They want to try out a few small pieces, which is completely understandable but, at the same time, my ability to sell small pieces has already outpaced my drive to make them. I was not looking for a gallery to dip their toe into the shallow end to see how it felt, I was looking for someone to help me make the leap into consistently selling larger, more elaborate pieces. So, my decision has always been to build the foundation myself. In other words, I wanted to continue keeping all the money until someone noticed how awesome I was and was willing to let me skip past the whole development phase. It should go without saying but, when you have minimal bills and a landlord who gives you a little leeway on the late rent, you can afford take some risks and see what works…

Recently though, I have begun to see the error in my ways. At this point in my life, I have a wife, a house, even a little orange dog. I think it is safe to say I am an grown up and, being a grown up with other living things relying on me means I can not always spend as much time in the studio as I used too. Doing all the work myself was great when I was focused only on being an artist but, it was also a hell of a lot of work and took up most of my time and energy. Like a caveman, or a used car salesman, if you don’t kill, you don’t eat. Sometimes cuddling up on the couch with my wife and little orange dog is just more appealing than hustling out in the studio.

Which brings me to the point when I realize what everyone else already knows.

There are a lot that goes into being an artist. Obviously, you have to create art. But that is really only a small part. If you want to have any chance at supporting yourself, you also have to do all sorts of things that really come down to getting your art in front of an audience. You have to get your work included in shows. You have to write about art. You have go out into the world and meet people who care about art. You have to do a lot of things that are not creating art. If you are someone who has already made the foolish decision to make art as a career I don’t have to tell you this but, when you suddenly find yourself with less time available to devote towards all these aspects of being an artist, there is one thing that is not going to be cut from that list. That is the actual creation of art. For better or worse, everything else is optional.

And this is what I was missing about what galleries were offering me. They were offering my art a place to continue to grow when I was busy living my life. I know this is pretty obvious and seems simple but, it is hugely important. I was looking for someone who could help take my career to the next level, which would have been great but, equally important is someone who could maintain all that I had worked for when my focus had to be elsewhere.

When I started writing this post, I expected the end to feel a lot more dramatic but really, it was a simple lesson that I feel foolish for overlooking for so long. In any case, I am back in the studio, back to hustling and attempting to regain the momentum that I lost this year while I was off being house broken.

Expect a lot more art related rants and stream of conciseness blog posts in the near future (along with some announcements about upcoming shows). For now, be sure to head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery where I have some new small and affordable pieces in their 10×10 show that opens this Saturday.

nick-ward-10x10-sloane-merrill-gallery

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I have been acting a bit out of character lately, working on small paintings. In the past, I really struggled to translate the process and feeling of the large paintings into a smaller, more affordable package. I have a very particular way of working, and I just can’t seem to convince myself to paint any other way.

When a lot of painters work, they are editing out a lot of visual information. They are taking the complex real world and simplifying it, deciding what is important, and including only what is necessary to create a nice clean image. This is a great way to work. I don’t do it.

When I work, I generally take the biggest canvas, and the smallest brush I can find. I like to pack in as much information as possible. Instead of taking a complex area and simplifying it, I am taking simple things and breaking out every possible color that might possibly exist there. This is a bad way to work. It takes a long time and it just doesn’t work at anything less than large scale. I do it anyways.

The thing is, I really think it makes interesting paintings.

I want anyone who buys one of my paintings, whether they spend thousands of dollars on a large piece, or tens of dollars on a tiny one, to come home with a piece that I think is good and interesting. If someone buys one of my paintings, I want it to have the things that make a painting mine, no matter what size it may be. Because of this, I have not sent out many small paintings lately.

Recently, my friends at Sloane Merrill Gallery asked me to create a few small paintings for their December show. So, I headed into the pathetic small spare bedroom that is my current temporary studio, determined to come up with some paintings that I would be happy showing.

I think I finally found the right balance. Instead of trying to scale down my techniques, I just painted with the same intensity and scale of strokes that I would use on a large piece. In the case of these smaller pieces, there is just less of it. So, for the first time, if you like the large pieces, you should see a lot of what you like in the small ones.

I am interested to see how people respond to these pieces so, please head on over to Sloane Merrill Gallery for their 10×10 show next week (or any time in December), have a look at the pieces and let me know what you think. They will be hung along side a lot of other great pieces, including a few by my old studio-mate (from the infamous studio 11), Tony Bevilacqua. Official show details along with information about the opening reception below.

10by10_sloane_merrill

Twenty painters given the same dimensions

10×10 Inches

Opening Saturday, December 6th from 3-8pm! Artists include Carlo Russo, Jeremy Durling, Adam Vinson, Leo Mancini-Hresko, Matthew Saba, Jeremy Miranda, Tony Bevilacqua, Kyle Bartlett, Kelly Carmody, Nicholas Mancini, Margaret Langford Sweet, Brett Gamache, Andrew Fish, Michelle Arnold Paine, Nick Ward, Michael Compton, Aurélie Galois, Frank Strazzulla, and Jonathon Nix.

At Sloane Merrill Gallery, 75 Charles Street Boston, MA


Help spread the word, share the event page on Facebook.

Recently, I was visiting my friends over at Sloane Merrill Gallery and they decided to give their summer intern the task of putting together a short artist interview with me. For those of you that know me personally, it is obvious that this is a fool’s errand. Giving me the stage in a room full of lovely young women and turning the spotlight on me is no way to get any work done. What started as a few simple inquiries about my art turned into hours of dodging questions, intern teasing, and rambling stories (mostly stories about cows that day). While the afternoon was enjoyable, I didn’t expect many lucid or relevant thoughts to be caught for the interview.

She did, however, manage to sift out one important thought that I want to elaborate on today. When listing to music, I am often overcome with waves of emotion. These moments are very unpredictable and run the spectrum from overwhelming rushes of nostalgia, or feelings of amazing calmness, all the way to what I described as a full body tingle. That rush of excitement that sweeps from head to toe, vibrating your whole body with excitement.

I often worry that people do not experience this sort of purely emotional response from purely visual, static forms of art like painting and sculpture. Looking at great paintings is always intellectually stimulating and is quite and enjoyable experience but, those intense feelings that music so often brings out in me are missing. People tell me that paintings have the ability to stir these emotions but I just don’t get it. It should go without saying; this is a troubling realization for someone who spends so much time and energy creating paintings.

After talking about this concern with the women at the gallery, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am always chasing this idea when I make paintings. I am always trying to create images that I think will trigger these feelings. Images of moments that we have all experienced in some form, images that should trigger nostalgic feelings, or memories of pleasure, or maybe memories of pain. I am fine tuning the colors, adding contrasting visual elements, bits of text, nothing seems to work.

Then it hit me. I have been experiencing these moments the entire time, not with finished paintings but, during the creation of them. So many people describe creating art as therapeutic, relaxing them or bringing them increased feelings of sanity. This is not at all what I experience in the studio. Making art is hard. Not hard physically but, mentally draining. It is a stress filled rollercoaster ride, like a whirlwind romance, filled with dramatic mood swings and chaos, waves of pure pleasure followed but crushing frustration.

Realizing this made me feel a little more relaxed about wasting my life creating paintings. Like so many things in life, it is more about the journey than the destination and, it seems that people can find and appreciate these struggles and emotions in the finished pieces of art. This realization also helps explain why my best paintings feature models that I know and love, even if the imagery of the piece does not necessarily reflect their personality or my relationship with them.

With that in mind, I want to show you my latest piece. It features my, soon to be wife, sunbathing. Like most of my sunbather paintings, I have corrupted an old masters representation of the lamentation of Christ but, that is not important for this blog post. What is important in this context is that I did the initial studies and photographs for this painting, a few years ago when we first met. Back before we were (almost) newlyweds, she was just a pretty stranger walking through The Distillery building, and I was just a broke artist who needed someone willing to model for free. As we started dating the creation of this piece got pushed aside as I was inspired to (somewhat obsessively) work on a large scale portrait of her instead. Now that our relationship is changing once again, I thought it was a good time to bring this piece back, to finish the painting that initially brought us together.

Sunbather #4

Now, that story has little to do with the message and imagery of the completed painting. I came up with the concept for the painting before we even met and in its world, she is just a helpful volunteer. However, in the studio, where paintings are frequently abandoned incomplete, and the (fairly simple and easy) act of rendering is turned into a dramatic battle within my own mind, having that deeper connection and interest in the model is often the difference between success and failure.

The title of the piece is simply, “Sunbather #4”. It is done in oil on custom birch wood panel and I will be dropping it off at Sloane Merrill Gallery (on Charles Street in Beacon Hill) this afternoon. By popular demand, I have conceded to make a series of smaller pieces that are a bit more affordable and, most importantly, fit into apartments or houses with normal sized walls. If you like this piece, let me know and go by the gallery and have a look. While I really love working large, I know that large pieces are just not practical for many people. So, if the pieces sell and feedback is good, I will try to keep focused on making more small pieces.

I was not going to post this painting until it was 100% finished but, here it is anyways. Pretty much complete except for adding more flowers in the grass and final touches here and there.

Lately I have noticed a pretty good jump in traffic to this site so I wanted to say hello to all of my new visitors. Maybe you found me in Poets and Artists Magazine or possibly some of you have wandered over from the Distillery Open Studios site. In any case, it is always nice to have new visitors.

Since the last one was so well received, I have been working on another sunbather painting. This has been a slow and steady process because of the amount of canvas to cover but it is really starting to come together. I hope to have it all finished up in time for open studios on Sunday June 6th.

Sunbather, work in progress

So, this is my 100th blog post on NickWardOnline. It has taken forever since I have only posted updates as new paintings develop or I manage to weasel my way into interesting events or shows but here we are at the big 100th post.

To celebrate I am going to make a new print to give away to anyone who reads my site, here or on Facebook notes.

So, it will be a multi-color hand pulled screen print but, the choice of image is yours.

  1. another print based on one of the make-up girls paintings.
  2. a print based on one of the sunbather girls.
  3. an entirely new print, a sneak peak into the next series.

Anyone who wants can leave a comment on my site or on Facebook, or email me with your vote for image choice.

After that, anyone who reads these posts that wants a print can just send me an email letting me know that they want a copy of the print. I will give everyone a few weeks or maybe a month to respond to make sure nobody gets left out, then I will make a run of prints. Then, I will send everyone a hand pulled limited edition screen print.

I put the finishing touches on the last sunbather painting and hung it in the gallery for the Studio 11 retrospective show. It looks great hanging above the old church pew in the back of the gallery and I am pretty excited to see the entire show, once the rest of the work goes up. Should be a good mix of artists from Studio 11’s past so, be sure to come by Thursday night between 6 and 9 pm for the opening.

With the last piece finished I started another sunbather painting. I have barely even started painting it and I am already excited to see it completed. Here is a quick camera phone shot of what I have gotten done so far:

I am taking a break from all the make up paintings and portraits and starting a new series of works. I am trying to take what I have learned studying faces and apply it to the entire figure. Here is a progress shot of the first of these paintings:

And a little more detail:

While working on this painting I have taken photographs along the way and posted them to my Twitter account. So if you want to see the full development of this piece, head on over there. More too come as this painting continues towards completion.