When I was first starting out, trying to figure out how to actually make a living as an artist, I would sometimes wake up late at night in a panic and apply for jobs. I couldn’t picture myself working at any of these places but, I didn’t want to be wasting my life.

Later, I started to figure things out and sell some paintings. At this point when I woke up panicked, I would apply to galleries. I couldn’t picture my paintings at many of the galleries but, I didn’t know if I could keep selling without help.

It should go without saying that my 4am cover letter game is pretty weak and, even the cleverest of late night ideas do not necessarily stand up to the light of day. I didn’t get many callbacks.

As I have mentioned here before, life has been getting in the way of art lately and, I have been worrying that I have not been showing enough this year. So, in a decision slightly better than sending love letters to gallery directors, I decided to apply to some shows.

This time I actually got a response.

So, while I’ve never pictured my work fitting in there, I am happy to be sending a piece to the annual members show at The Danforth in Framingham.

The piece I am sending is my Portrait of Matthew Cherry that I did for Poets & Artists magazine. The piece was originally painted to be the cover art for the issue so, the composition is a little quirky. That said, I actually love this painting so, I am happy that it is finally getting an opportunity to escape the studio and hang in the real world.

Portrait of Matthew Cherry (for Poets and Artists Magazine)

The show is up from June 7 through August 2, 2015 and, there is a Members Only Exhibition Preview on Friday, June 5 from 5–7pm.
Head over to the Danforth website for more information and a complete list of artists. Here is a buying guide by CutterWelderMaestro, one of the best on market right now!

FY15 Annual Juried Exhibitions OTW COA Evite

Recently, I finished a piece that I have been keeping under wraps a bit longer than normal. I think I have mentioned before that this piece is headed to Florida for a show organized by Victoria Selbach for Poets and Artists Magazine, that will be held at Sirona Fine Art this February. I am working on framing and packing the piece this week and I wanted to talk a little about my process behind making the painting. If you can’t sit through a little art talk, feel free skip to the end and just get the details about the show.

nick-ward-artists-gaze

It is no secret that what separates bad art (and mediocre art) from the good stuff is often (always?) some element of suffering. Just like riding a roller coaster, a song that tells the story of pain that we can relate to (or glamorizes pain that we will never feel) lights up our brains in the most pleasurable ways. Something about facing suffering, in a controlled manner, is just extremely satisfying. I won’t pretend to understand why this is, but if you have ever faced two similar works of art and tried to understand why one makes an impact, while the other falls flat, this is usually a big part of the answer. Good artists have a (sometime unconscious) fundamental understanding of this and that is where “the rules” come into play.

First off, it should go without saying but I am going to say it anyway, good artists are good at making art. Seriously. I am going to go out on a limb and just say that every good artist has gotten to a point in their art making where making art got fairly easy. They got to a certain level of technical proficiency, they started to understand the aesthetics of their particular artistic language, whatever… making art started to become second nature. This is where “the rules” come into play.

If good art is about allowing people to safely suffer, to face difficult subjects, and it is coming out easily, you have a problem, you are not pushing hard enough, and the final product (art) is not going to be effective. If you do not feel anything when you make it, people are not going to feel anything when they look at/interact with your art. Hobbyists enjoy making art, artists work hard. When making art starts getting easy, when there is not enough suffering in the studio anymore, artists start creating barriers for themselves — they invent rules for their art work and process to follow. Ultimately, understanding the rules that an artist has set for the creation of the art can reveal a lot about the final piece.

Are you still with me? Am I completely wrong here? If you are an artist, do you not work within a set of (ever tightening) regulations?

As I was working on the piece that I would ultimately decide to send to this show, I was posting a lot of images of my progress on my website, on Instagram, on Facebook, and I got a lot of interesting feedback. Mostly, it could be separated into two distinct groupings:

 
The people that think my paintings are kind of weird (in a good way) thought I had pushed it too far towards realism, therefore I had created a somewhat less interesting piece.
 
The people that think I am a pretty good realistic painter thought this was a step forward in my ability to paint things that look like the thing I am painting, and therefore this was a more interesting piece.
 

In my mind, both of these groups of people are missing something. I am not intending to paint people as entirely weird caricatures, I am not trying to accurately render things to the best of my ability. What I am trying to do is create interesting paintings that communicate something, while working within my own set of artistic rules, and there is one rule that all my pieces follow. One rule that really defines the look of my paintings, even this one.

If there is one thing that really makes painting images worthwhile in a world where photography is so prevalent, it is the act of painting itself. The fact that some foolish human took the time to painstakingly create an image, gives paintings a weight that photography can not achieve. With that in mind, I go out of my way to make my paintings as labor intensive as possible. I use a small brush and mix every stroke individually. I spend more time than is necessary on pieces and try to leave obvious evidence of this in the finished product. I want to push the fact that some idiot human (that’s me) just spent a month creating something that a camera could have done better in 5 minutes. Painting this way is not the right way to do it, it does not produce the most realistic results, it distorts colors and adds strange textures, it complicates things. If I was more successful, this is the part where I would make a stink about doing it all myself and not using studio assistants, but I think at this point in my career that goes without saying.

In this piece, I have toned down the textures that are normally created by working this way, and people seem to have noticed. I did this so that other distortions could take the stage. I wanted the piece to feel unstable. The skin is not as textured and the colors are more even, but I tried to play with cool and warm areas within the body, allowing some parts to push back into the blues of the background and then shifted the lines of the blanket so the figure felt as though it may also be in danger of falling forward. I wanted the figure to feel pushed back into a corner, while still maintaining a strong gaze toward the viewer. There are a lot of small things happening in a simple composition and allowing too much texture in the skin made the piece feel overly busy.

The painting is being sent off to Florida, so be sure to check out the show if you are in the area, or in Poets and Artists Magazine, if you are not. The show has an amazing array of artists, all with a unique way of looking at women in their art. Best of all, it gives me a good excuse to get out of frozen Boston and work on my sunburn in Miami.

If you want to join me there, check out the opening reception event on Facebook.

artists-gaze

Artist’s Gaze, Seeing Women in the Twenty-first Century

Curated by Victoria Selbach

At Sirona Fine Art

Dates: February 21 to March 22, 2015

Opening Reception: February 21, 2015

Featuring work by:

  • Aleah Chapin
  • Alison Lambert
  • Alyssa Monks
  • Bernardo Torrens
  • Brian Booth Craig
  • Cesar Santos
  • Christian Johnson
  • Cindy Bernhard
  • Daliah Ammar
  • Daniel Maidman
  • Delita Martin
  • Dorielle Caimi
  • Erica Elan Ciganek
  • Erin Anderson
  • Hollis Dunlap
  • Jamie Valero
  • Jason Bard Yarmosky
  • Jeff Faerber
  • Jennifer Balkan
  • Judith Peck
  • Krista Louise Smith
  • Lauren Levato Coyne
  • Maria Kreyn
  • Mark Horst
  • Mary Beth McKenzie
  • Matthew Cherry
  • Melinda Whitmore
  • Mia Bergeron
  • Michelle Doll
  • Nadine Robbins
  • Nick Ward
  • Park Hyun Jin
  • Patrick Earl Hammie
  • Reuben Negron
  • Richard Thomas Scott
  • Ryan Shultz
  • Stephen Early
  • Stephen Wright
  • Susannah Martin
  • Tim Okamura
  • Victoria Selbach
  • Wesley Wofford
  • Will Kurtz

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.

Until recently, I never considered the impact of my studio space on the art I make. I didn’t have too. I had a big space, with easy access, in a building that housed a lot of other artists. Unfortunately, progress stops for no one and, eventually the time came when I had to leave that that big open studio space behind so it could became a few, smaller, fancier, more expensive apartments.

With that space gone, I took another space in the building. It could only be accessed by a tight stairwell that restricted the size of work I could do, and it was a bit more expensive but, it was big, open, and I didn’t have to leave the building of artists behind so I jumped right in and continued working.

Unfortunately, that space was a little rough, and the price kept creeping up so, late last year it was time to leave that studio behind to look for greener (less expensive) pastures. That search took me through four studios in the last year or so and, as a result my work really started to suffer. I started to understand the importance of having a good space to work in and saw the impact of different situations in the paintings that I was doing. During this period of studio chaos, one painting came along for the ride and saw the effects of all 4 spaces. It started out in a space that I was settled and comfortable. With good light and lots of space. It moved with me into a dark, dirty, cold basement studio that I just could not convince myself to visit during the warm summer days. It followed me when I fled to the outskirts of town to work in a little garage and it finally settled into a tiny spare room in my new house with me. It started big and bold and loosely painted, it took on strange colors when I worked in bad light and it became more realistic when the space was too cramped to step back.

Somehow, the painting ended up looking pretty good. It is definitely a little different from similar pieces I have done in the past but, I am betting that a lot of you might think it is a step forward.

Normally this is the part of the post where I would reveal the final piece but, in this case, it will be heading out to a show and they have asked me to keep it under wraps for now… but I just can’t resist giving a little teaser.

And I Realize That Most of My Wounds Are Self Inflicted

If you want to see it go through a lot of changes, some strange color choices, and a bunch of different studios check out my instagram page where I have posted some progress shots of the piece over the last few months.

For now, there is a happy ending to this story, I am settled in to the tiny little spare room studio in my new house, taking the opportunity to work on some smaller pieces while I try to figure out, what makes a good studio and, where can I find or build one in this city.

Portrait of Jessica

Working on this painting has been a struggle. In fact, working on pieces with this particular model, has been a struggle. I don’t want to cast the blame on her, though, this struggle is mine, she just stumbled into it. To be fair, she may be the most experienced, easiest to work with model I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with. She showed up when she said she would, she was beautiful, charming, and had an incredible ability to position herself in just the right way for each image. By all measures, she nailed it. Unfortunately, this sort of thing just doesn’t help me make good paintings.

Now, let me elaborate on that. This sort of thing would help immensely if I had the opportunity to have her in the studio for an extended time, so that I could work from life. The reality is that I just don’t have the budget to do that yet. The reality of being an artist, working in a style that is not exactly in fashion, is that I have to stretch a dollar. The reality is, I have to work primarily from photographs. Nobody wants to hang around my studio for weeks on end, staying as still as possible, without a really good reason (if anyone wants to volunteer, I would certainly prefer to work from life). This is not a complaint though, I accept this reality and, to be honest, for someone who is often accused of being a photo realist painter (an accusation which I would adamantly deny), I just don’t spend too much time worrying about what things actually look like.

Here I am, struggling away in the studio, hardly caring what things actually look like, barely even looking at a bunch of shitty photographs (did I mention that I am a shitty photographer?) to make sure that all the body parts fall roughly in the right place, trying to create representational art. Not exactly the best case scenario but, sometimes it works. The times that it works, are the times that I am painting people who I know. People that I know well enough to paint a convincing likeness within these less than ideal parameters.

Back to my struggle. In this case, like the other paintings I have attempted with this model, I am breaking that pattern. I am staring hard at the reference images, trying to figure out if my painting actually looks anything like her. I am trying so hard to figure out if I am on the right track but, in the end, I just don’t know all that well what she really looks like. I am spending a lot of time worrying about this, when it really shouldn’t matter. After all, what I am trying to paint is not what someone actually looks like, but the feeling of looking at someone (or something like that), and since I don’t really know what looking at Jessica feels like, I struggle.

In any case, while I am not sure that this painting looks anything like her, I think I am finally happy with the result.

“But, How did I get to.. Now?”

48″x48″ oil on canvas

But, How Did I Get To Now..

Those of you that hate the text paintings will be happy to see that I restrained myself here.

For anyone in the Chicago area, this piece is headed out that way in April, more details on that show will be posted soon. I will be out for the opening so, if you show up and claim to actually read these posts, I will buy you a beer.*

*if I have any money.

I have not posted any updates in a while but, there is a lot going on in my studio.

photo

A friend of mine recently asked me to hang some pieces in the lobby gallery at the FP3 building in Fort Point. The room is beautiful and, in the back opens up into a large space with 20 foot ceilings, which makes it the perfect place to hang some of my larger paintings. I am always surprised at how nice the paintings look when they get out of the studio and into a proper environment and this is no exception. The space really gives the paintings some room to breath and, its great to see the new 5’x7′ large piece in a space that makes its scale work.

In any case, they are holding a little opening reception this Thursday from 6-8 (I hear there may be tasty snacks). So, if you are around Boston, come on out, say hello and check it out.

Nick Ward's Paintings at FP3 Fort Point

Nick Ward’s Distorted Memories
Opening Thursday November 14th 6-8pm
FP3, 346 Congress Street Boston, MA
https://www.facebook.com/events/1378107369099991/

A few days ago I dropped by Fourth Wall Project to take a sneak peak of the Street Diamonds show. The gallery was still awaiting the arrival of Faring Purth to install one of her large paintings in front but, the show was already looking great. I don’t want to give too much away but, there is one piece that I just can’t keep under my hat.

The piece is Silas Finch’s fifteen foot tall sculpture of a gown created from a discarded vintage parachute. The piece is so simple that I am having a hard time finding the right words to describe it but the visual effect is amazing. The piece as a sculpture alone is wonderful. Then he fits the dress to an actual living breathing (not 15′ tall) model and Heather McGrath uses it as the basis for a sensational series of photographs. Again, I don’t want to give away too much but, since Liz at Flux-Boston already posted this image, I will share it as well:

Heather McGrath - Silas Finch Collaboration

In any case, as much as it pains me to be the least famous artist in the room–showing pieces that are not even the biggest, brightest, or shiniest things there–this show is not to be missed.

Street Diamonds II at Fourth Wall Project

Curated by Silvi Naci

132 Brookline Ave, Boston

Aug 10 – Sept 7th

Collector Reception Aug 10 (7-9pm)

Closing Reception Aug 24(7-9pm)