I am a contemporary artist who paints portraits of concrete blocks and cinder block walls in acrylic on silk. My goal for this blog is to explain techniques, show works in progress, unveil newly completed artwork, announce upcoming exhibitions, and share websites of interest. Enjoy!
For eight years I worked as a wildlife artist, painting wolves, ducks, and raptors. My career, though successful, felt restricted by the confines of the genre.
Red-Tailed Hawk by Nolan Haan 1988
My best artist friend, Carlos Cobos, was a contemporary artist, and whenever we exchanged studio visits, I marveled at his artistic freedom. He didn't have to count primary feathers or sit in duck blinds. His artwork evolved from painting to painting, a diary of his life. I yearned to try my hand at contemporary art, so for about a year, I kept my antenna up for something new to reveal itself, something no one had done before.
One evening, while sipping a gin and tonic after a hard day's painting, I leaned back and stared at the cement block studio walls. They were spattered with years of paint; they were scarred with pits and scratches and ill-applied mortar. These walls had been with me for years, but at that moment I acknowledged them for the first time. It was as though they were saying, "Look at me." I suddenly saw them as beautiful, comprised of individual blocks, each unique.
"If you could cut out a section of that wall," I remember thinking, "It would fit right in a contemporary art gallery." I had found my muse.
Basic Gray Acrylic on Silk 40 x 60 inches
Licking my Wounds: the Art of Rejection
Rejection is part of the normal life cycle for creative people, so learning to cope is critical to our long term survival. When that thin envelope arrives from the “call for entries” venue, we already know that the first words will be, “This year there were many strong entries, unfortunately…” Rejection notices always arrive in thin envelopes. The thick ones are reserved for the anointed few, packed with information on delivery and pickup, etc. Has anyone ever read an entire rejection letter? Mine are usually crumpled up before I finish the first line. My initial reaction is anger, directed at the “stupid judges.” What were they looking for, anyway? Having done my due diligence by googling them, I knew exactly what they liked. I had chosen paintings specifically with them in mind. How could they have not seen the fabulousness of my entry?
The anger stage is followed by embarrassment. “Will anyone remember I entered this?” You get a knot in your stomach every time you see an ad for the event. The final insult comes when you see the show itself. You go from picture to picture thinking bitterly, “How did this get in and not mine?” You lick your wounds for a while, but hopefully you have the strength to subject yourself to it all over again.
King Eider by Nolan Haan oil on panel 7 x 10 inches
I learned a good lesson many years ago that helps me cope with rejection. As many of you know from earlier blogs, I placed second in the 1982 Federal Duck Stamp competition. This was a big deal, because all the best wildlife artists in the country enter, and the winner won two million dollars. My entry of a king eider (first duck I ever painted) received perfect scores of 10 from 4 of the 5 judges. What very few people know, however, is that I re-entered this same painting (perfectly acceptable) a couple years later, fully expecting it to win. Imagine my shock when it was eliminated in the first round, with all five judges voting “OUT.” It never even got to the scoring rounds. The same painting, two different judging panels, two different results. Later that year, the painting was chosen for an exhibition at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and went on their world tour. I had learned a valuable lesson.
Intellectually I can accept rejection easily. I understand that many factors come into play, only one of which is the quality of the artwork. Emotionally, however, rejections still hurt. Each artist thinks his/her work is da bomb. Unfortunately, this bravado is thin, and every rejection chips away at our fragile belief in ourselves. To my fellow artists I say, next time that thin envelope arrives, think of my king eider getting all “outs” and believe that your work has merit.
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Take care, and have a productive week.