Art-o-mat!

Sometime last year I had a day off in the middle of the week. My wife was at her job and I was on my own at The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Turning a corner near the coat-check, next to the ATM, my eyes fell on what appeared to be a cigarette machine. This really caught my attention as I hadn't seen a cigarette machine in decades and I'm not sure I'd ever seen one in an art museum. On second glance I saw that emblazoned on the front was the word "Art-o-mat"! It was a cigarette machine indeed, but it had been re-purposed to vend some kind of art!

 My Art-o-mat prototype

My Art-o-mat prototype

I peeked into the slots that used to reveal packs of Winstons, Camels, Marlboros and Cools and saw that each window housed a stack of work from a different artist.

For a small fee (cheaper than a pack of cigarettes these days) you could actually buy a tiny piece of original art — at an art museum no less! This I had to try!

I searched through and found what I might like, a present for my wife who couldn't take the day off to go to the museum with me. I put my money in the slot and pulled the knob. The longer-than-expected throw of the handle was a very nostalgic experience, even though I'd probably only ever bought cigarettes out of a machine on a dare. Out "ker-plunked" a small white box with a picture of an Easter Island style Tiki head on the label.

I took it home and gave it to my wife. Upon removing the cellophane band and opening the box she found, wrapped in magenta tissue, a raku Tiki head pendant necklace.

This was... well, cool! It was like one of those stories where the protagonist acquires something in an offbeat way that sets them upon a magical journey, like Jumanji or The Neverending Story. The whole thing was a fun, interactive, nostalgic, modern art experience! It was an artisanal Cracker Jack box prize! Be an art collector for fun and profit! But seriously, my wife still wears the necklace quite frequently, and I found out later that this is a nation-wide project and people do indeed collect and trade these things. We've even bought some more since.

A plaque on the machine said I could go to the Art-o-mat website to find guidelines for submitting ideas for my own art. Growing up on Whacky Packages and having created many of my own packages (and lampoons thereof), this was right up my street!

After weeks of careful consideration and meditation, I decided that landscapes would be pretty easy to produce in quantity and that probably very few artists would go to the trouble of creating oil paintings for this kind of thing.

To me, an oil painting is quintessentially what people think of when they hear the words "fine art" so I ordered a prototype kit, started a label design, and produced the prototype shown at the top of this post.

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I cut and sanded a chunk of poplar to the right specifications and painted the small landscape, then wrapped it in glassine as shown in this example.

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I sealed it with a tiny vellum stamp with my logo on it.

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I produced a small certificate of authenticity with a brief history of oil painting, a mini bio, and a few words about buying and caring for an oil painting. The extra paper had the added benefit of cushioning the piece within a cardboard box provided in the prototype kit.

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I stuck my label on, wrapped the cellophane band around it and submitted it for approval.

A few days later I received a very complimentary email with details on how to submit 50 pieces for vending.

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I cut, sanded, and primed 50 more slices of poplar.

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I painted in a background of sky and water adding the puffy clouds.

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Once all that dried, I added hills in the distance and a bit of grass in the foreground.

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A bit of foliage was added in two more sessions to complete the scene.

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When the picture dried I painted all the backs black.

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Each piece was signed, dated, and given a number in the series.

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Just signing the accompanying certificates and packaging the pieces took the better part of an afternoon.

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Once packaged, I sent the first batch off to be vended.

If you're an artist looking for a fun way to just plain share your work, seriously consider this project.

You can't make a business out of it, but they do pay you a modest fee for each piece. You can certainly make them simpler. I probably spent way too much time on them, but it was terrific fun and I wish I were a fly on the wall to see each person purchase and open their own tiny piece of art.

I'll be doing seascapes next!

Studio 2.0

It may seem odd that I just posted about setting up one's art studio only four months ago, but such are the tricks that life plays on us. Having recently heard of the development of an old industrial space into "Creative Office and Artist Space" I decided to check out the Norwood Space Center. It's not too far away, and they are actively seeking artists.

So... with a bit of apprehension and much excitement, I have rented a portion of a shared studio. They split a 600 sq ft studio into three parts. So far though, I am the only one in there.

 The space is built out but bare.

The space is built out but bare.

 But I do have an historical feature in these 14 foot tall industrial fire doors.

But I do have an historical feature in these 14 foot tall industrial fire doors.

 It's pretty distressed on the outside, but they've promised me they're going to seal it off.

It's pretty distressed on the outside, but they've promised me they're going to seal it off.

 I am in Building 6 of the old industrial complex of about a dozen structures. Some are currently quite run down.

I am in Building 6 of the old industrial complex of about a dozen structures. Some are currently quite run down.

 But they are all quite old and beautiful.

But they are all quite old and beautiful.

 Two days of painting, and the look of the space changes considerably.

Two days of painting, and the look of the space changes considerably.

 I finished out a ridge in the outer wall which was pretty rough. It'll make a nice shelf to display things on.

I finished out a ridge in the outer wall which was pretty rough. It'll make a nice shelf to display things on.

 A 4'x8' sheet of Homasote makes a cheap but efficient bulletin board, and about 6 hours work makes a decent workbench.

A 4'x8' sheet of Homasote makes a cheap but efficient bulletin board, and about 6 hours work makes a decent workbench.

 I'm painting the bulletin board a Gallery Green for viewing artwork on.

I'm painting the bulletin board a Gallery Green for viewing artwork on.

 Already the workbench is coming in handy.

Already the workbench is coming in handy.

 With some art on the walls, the space starts to look a little more lived in.

With some art on the walls, the space starts to look a little more lived in.

 I also repainted the entrance and put up a sign just in time for myself and a couple of other artists to have our studios open for a Space Center event.

I also repainted the entrance and put up a sign just in time for myself and a couple of other artists to have our studios open for a Space Center event.

 After four days work, it's a lot more presentable.

After four days work, it's a lot more presentable.

In the coming months, there will be events and shows that I plan to take part in. Stay tuned.

Studio Move and Setup

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently moved my studio.

For me, as for many artists, moving studios is a hugely disruptive process. But if you are moving or even setting up a studio for the first time, following are some simple tips for setting up a painting studio that I have found helpful over the years. A little planning can make a studio more efficient, especially if you are trying to save space.

To be clear: This is not a traditional, North-facing, dust-free, smock and beret type of painting studio. This is a down and dirty, artificially lit, paint-into-the-wee-hours, garret type, art workshop. Yours may be something altogether different.

So, the first thing to do is to get organized and pack-up your old studio.

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If you are renting and/or want to protect the new digs you're in, I recommend two things: linoleum and canvas.

Once you're through enjoying the heady environment of the empty room you are about to fill up and create in, go to your local flooring supplier (or big-box home improvement store) and find the cheapest slice of roll-up linoleum you can. Remnants even work for small studios, though it's preferable to find something with a fake "tile" grid on it rather than a random seamless design — more on this in a minute.

Don't worry about adhesive, this is something you are laying down over a nice floor to protect it. Gravity and furniture will hold it in place.

 Nice hard-wood floors want protection from paint and solvents.

Nice hard-wood floors want protection from paint and solvents.

 Rolled flooring tends to keep it's curl for a while and that can be a danger to feet.

Rolled flooring tends to keep it's curl for a while and that can be a danger to feet.

 A heavy road-case or other ample weight, set overnight, can make things lie flat.

A heavy road-case or other ample weight, set overnight, can make things lie flat.

I found a reasonably priced vinyl flooring with a 12x12" tile pattern on it which covered the working area of the room. Measuring beforehand is important here to properly cover your work area, and you may have to cut away areas that cover ventilation or other outlets.

Next, you'll want to protect walls. Years ago, I started doing this by hanging a canvas drop-cloth on the wall behind the easel in my studio. I just slammed a bunch of 5/8" push pins into the wall to accomplish this then, but over time I've gotten more sophisticated.

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My current lease actually has a clause that I can only use gallery hooks in the walls like the one illustrated here. This is reasonable, as the walls are plaster and lath and can be difficult to repair. In fact, not only have I already been using gallery hooks for years now, I recommend them even for drywall.

So while you're at the local big-box, get some gallery hooks, a large canvas drop-cloth (measure!), and a grommet kit — 1/2" grommets should do (and a hammer if you don't have one already). At this point with the flooring, you probably have spent about $70 to $100.

Unfold the drop-cloth and mark even spaces to apply your grommets along the top (yup, more measuring). These will need to match where you place the hooks on the wall. However, you don't have to go crazy trying to get this exact — the canvas need not hang too tightly. As long as the spaces between the grommets are wider than the spaces between the hooks on the wall by at least an inch to give the drop-cloth a little slack, you should be fine. Also, place the hooks at a height so you have excess canvas where the wall meets the floor (to accommodate things like power cords).

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It's a good idea to fold the top 2 inches over to provide a little extra strength as you cut the holes. The hole-cutters that come with most grommet kits dull quickly, so you may want to have a pair of sewing scissors or a razor knife at the ready to perfect the holes before you pound in the grommets. Follow the instructions in the grommet kit to match up the grommets and their dies, and give 'em a good healthy whack. It's a good idea to sacrifice a grommet or two to practice before committing the rest of them to your project (to see how they work).

Once your grommets and hooks are in place, the canvas can be hung to protect the walls from even the most Jackson Pollock-like projects.

 In this case I was covering an 8' wall, so I hung 5 hooks with 24" between each one.

In this case I was covering an 8' wall, so I hung 5 hooks with 24" between each one.

Next comes the easel (if you paint on an easel).

I acquired two easels from an art-teacher-aunt back in the nineties. I save space by not unfolding the rear supporting leg and simply lean them up against the (now protected) wall.

 One might be enough...

One might be enough...

 ...but I use both...

...but I use both...

 ...and place a board between them.

...and place a board between them.

 A slice of thin plywood backs up the artwork.

A slice of thin plywood backs up the artwork.

 All together, it makes a cheap but sturdy easel.

All together, it makes a cheap but sturdy easel.

Today these easels run about $200 a piece (new). But save some money, and look on Craigslist or eBay... or lash some lumber together to your liking. There are many possibilities for cheap easels, and you're probably going to drip paint on them anyway.

Next, add your art gear —

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Then, bring in the art you've already done —

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Now you have a place to work. Huzzah!!

...

However, what about photographing the work you finish? That's where the fake "tile" pattern comes in really handy. It's a grid!

To photograph a piece of art you'll want to place bright lights on either side of the work between 30 and 45 degrees perpendicular to the face of the work for even, glare-free lighting. If you set the center of your easel along one of the tile lines you can simply place your light stands at the corners of your tile-grid, as illustrated below.

 You can also use that center-line under your easel to center the base of your tripod when you set up your camera.

You can also use that center-line under your easel to center the base of your tripod when you set up your camera.

I don't have my photo-floods out all the time, but the grid makes it easier to set up when I need to shoot.

 Red line shows 45 degrees. Still too much glare? Move the lamps back towards 30 degrees.

Red line shows 45 degrees. Still too much glare? Move the lamps back towards 30 degrees.

I use 5K lamps and set the white point with a playing card — the ace of spades or ace of clubs will do nicely.

 With the bonus addition of my two Luxos (set around 30 degrees), these work lights (set at 45 degrees) provide ample light.

With the bonus addition of my two Luxos (set around 30 degrees), these work lights (set at 45 degrees) provide ample light.

One final but important note: I put as much of my studio furniture on casters as I can. This helps make my studio flexible to different sorts of projects.

I hope this helps make your studio setup a little more efficient. Packing and moving is a hassle for everyone, but it can result in a disruptive break in the creative process for artists. Better to treat it as an opportunity and re-create the studio itself!