50 Notes for Young Artists

  1. Always have at least one piece going that uses shitty materials: house paint, butchers paper, crayons, cardboard. It’s liberating, intuitive and someday it will give restorers and conservators something to do.
  2. Appreciate your enemies. If someone hates your work they’re paying attention. If no one hates your work, be worried.
  3. If you try to be trendy you’re already too late.
  4. Make all moves provisional and partial. Reveal your process, that’s what people really want to see.
  5. All artists who ever lived are not only still alive but still working.
  6. Shop for art in thrift stores and yard sales. Train your eye to see work, not ‘worth’.
  7. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean it’s her fault.
  8. Stop working when there’s still water in the well. Leave a place to start tomorrow.
  9. There is no single ‘art world’; there are thousands.
  10. Art has no ‘history’. There is no linear progression. All art exists in the present. It’s a garage sale.
  11. Work in multiple media at the same time. They inform each other.
  12. Fear your friends – they’re the ones who will steal all your time – but that’s not actually their fault, it’s yours.
  13. When you visit a museum, go directly to the center of each room and look for something that calls you. Don’t follow the walls reading the labels. That’s for suckers.
  14. Just because an artist is great doesn’t mean every work is good. Some of their work stinks – just like some of yours.
  15. Once you leave art school no one cares if you ever make another picture. You might as well do what you really want to do.
  16. Avoid ‘art lovers’ – they don’t.
  17. Work on at least 5 or 6 pieces at once.
  18. Don’t be precious. If you’re struggling with a picture to save one part, get rid of that part – it’s warping the rest.
  19. Just because an artist is famous doesn’t mean you have to like his work.
  20. Gestation can take a lifetime. Artists never get old, they start over every day. 
  21. Memory is the mother of the Muses.
  22. Trust yourself – especially if you don’t know why you are going in some new direction. There’s a reason.
  23. Important ideas are never lost. If they don’t keep coming back they aren’t important. Kill them, paint over them, burn them –  just to see if they rise from the dead. 
  24. Your studio is a tool. Arrange it for your process. When your work changes your studio should change too. That task deserves your full attention.
  25. Read the comments and look for insight.
  26. Don’t ever read the comments.
  27. The trick to painting is knowing when to stop. Stay alert – it could be done at any moment. The worst thing you can do is keep working.
  28. Don’t judge your own work by what you see in galleries or museums. That work is there for hundreds of reasons that have nothing to do with you or what you do
  29. Make the move you must do. When you run out of things you must do, you’re done.
  30. Pricing: flip through numbers in your head until a bell rings. Don’t sell it for less.
  31. Don’t sell your seed corn.
  32. When you hear that someone’s late work is a ‘decline’, pay particularly close attention to it.
  33. If you aren’t having bad days you aren’t trying hard enough.
  34. Let things cool off and come back to them. Some pictures take days, some take years. Some take decades.
  35. Never repeat yourself.
  36. Repeat yourself whenever you want.
  37. You don’t need people to love your work. You need people to buy it.
  38. You’ll get more out of hanging around with carpenters, pastry chefs and physicists than you’ll get hanging around with artists. Artists don’t have any money and secretly they hate you anyway.
  39. All projects have a natural audience. Find it.
  40. You can’t cram everything into one piece. If you try you’ll ruin it.
  41. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is a competition. You need to know other artists – you need to know the artists who need to know you.
  42. If you make 150 drawings of faces you’ll learn a lot. 15 of them might even be good.
  43. If you’ve said all you have to say by the 9th piece, trying to take a series to 15 is sheer tedium. Kill it.
  44. Clean your studio once a week.  Clean your brushes and put your tools away at the end of the day.
  45. Match the scale of your tools to the scale of the work.
  46. When starting new work, imagine how it will be seen, by whom, in what circumstances. This leads to a vision of your audience. Then you know who to look for.
  47. Plan your work, work your plan.  What do you want to be doing in 6 months? What do you have to do right now, tomorrow, next week, next month to make that happen?
  48. Galleries are like icebergs. What’s visible are the pictures but how they got on the wall is the biggest part: friendships, social networks, history and yes – money.
  49. One of the hardest things to accept is when you nail something on the first try without really trying. It’s just a random gift. It doesn’t mean anything. Take the rest of the day off anyway.
  50. If you aren’t at least slightly afraid that you suck you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.

Eclipse: Light and Shadow

If you know my work at all you know I am pretty interested in light and shadow. Not to say ‘obsessed’ or anything. A few days ago we had a show of light and shadow on a planetary scale – a total solar eclipse. I didn’t see much of it because we were clouded over here in Minneapolis but I followed it on TV. As I watched I found myself wondering how Flat Earth believers would explain it. I don’t know why I thought of this, I just did. So I went online to find out.

Most of the Flat Earth questions and explanations are – as you might expect – pretty silly, but one point in particular was not. Several people pointed out that although the moon is claimed to be 3474 km in diameter, the shadow that falls on the earth during a total eclipse is only 112 km in diameter. Assuming the rays of the sun that strike the moon and the earth are parallel rays (as it is often said), given parallel or slightly divergent rays the shadow would have to be the same size or larger than the Moon itself. How is it possible that a shadow could be smaller than the occluding object?

That’s actually not a stupid question, and while it may be uninformed, few are informed enough to know the answer. I wasn’t either. That’s why it intrigued me. The answer – like the answer to nearly every question about light and shadow – is ‘it’s all relative’.


  • The light source is large enough (relative to the occluder)
  • The occluder (the object throwing the shadow) is small enough yet in the right (relative) placement to completely or nearly completely block the light source from the point of view of the receiver
  • The receiver (where the shadow falls) is in the right (relative) placement to the occluder

then the umbra and/or the antumbra will be smaller than the occluder. The penumbra will be the same size or larger but the umbra is actually a cone pointing towards (or even beyond) the plane of the receiver.


One of the things I find most interesting about this when visualized is that it clearly shows that a shadow is not 2 dimensional and not simply an ‘absence’ of light, but a 3 dimensional projection of darkness. You can also see in this illustration that whether we see a total (umbral) eclipse or an annular (antumbral) eclipse depends on the relative distance between the earth and the moon.

I don’t have to contend with this particular formula, although it would be fun. The conditions required to create this effect are an intensely bright and very large light source – like the sun – and very large distances, not something that can be recreated in a studio. But this kind of thing is familiar to me. I wrestle with similar relationships every day I work on my photographs. Light is very weird.

And to get back to that question of ‘parallel rays’. For all practical purposes we can treat rays of light from the Sun as ‘parallel’ when they get to Earth. In the practice of imitating natural light effects they can (must) be treated as such, but in truth they aren’t. The divergence, however, is so slight that at our human scale, we don’t perceive it.

The reason they seem to be parallel is that only a small fraction of the sun’s rays strike the earth and those that do are all going in (roughly) the same direction. Although this specific effect can be approximated/faked in a studio, some things the sun does cannot, like the actual focal depth of shadows thrown by the sun. Interestingly, direct sunlight – in the absence of lens interference like a heavy atmosphere – does not enlarge shadows because the rays are more or less parallel. That’s one of the ways you can tell the difference between reflected light, especially if reflected from a convex surface, and direct sunlight. Like I said, light is weird.


The reason that household lamps do enlarge shadows is that the rays from a lamp are wildly divergent.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time on things like this.

Anselm Kiefer at Gagosian

I have been a Kiefer fan for decades. I’m not going to give a history but he’s a painter you should be familiar with. His work has always been ‘about’ Germany and German history and has, for the most part, always been somber, epic in scale and pretty overwhelming – much like this:

But his new show at Gagosian in NYC is a real surprise – and I do love to be surprised.


I wish I could see it in person.



August 2017 News

Untitled Loop #2

It’s been a very busy month (or so). There’s a lot of new work on the site with – of course – more to come. I am constantly solving problems I didn’t even know I had a week ago – or even yesterday. .

I’m doing the post production color work on a new short film by Austin filmmaker, Christine Chen, who directed Ya Albi which I gaffed and which is doing very well on the festival circuit.

And I’ve been submitting to festivals/prominent juried shows – a very time consuming process. Notifications for most will be in early Sept. but in the meantime I have a picture in the Fall issue, Volume 01, Issue 04 “Departure” of Light, A Journal of Photography and Poetry. That issue will be online August 15.


Bryan Appleyard: The Tri-X Factor

Bryan Appleyard: The Tri-X Factor

Anyone connected with the worlds of film and photography is probably already familiar with the debate over film vs. digital.  In this article from the Economist, Appleyard covers it in reference to a specific 35mm still photography film that was widely used for decades and continues to influence photographic aesthetics.  Tri-X, Appleyard writes, “may be the most aesthetically important technology in photographic history.”

He raises some good points, although not very surgically. Essentially, the article is about the fact that the technology of picture making influences not only the way we see pictures but the way we see the world – so the technology matters, a lot. That’s an important point to make and keep making. But he neither carefully dissects the digital vs. analogue divide nor considers the implications of the change. Is digital technology changing the way we see the world or did we choose it because we have changed? When is an analogy better than digital reproduction? Why doesn’t digital also function as analogy considering it is far more malleable? And what does ‘better’ mean?

He lets the photographers he interviews say ‘film is honest’ – which implies that digital is not – without probing any deeper. He mentions in passing that old school photography was also heavily manipulated but doesn’t dig to figure out why film, even if manipulated, feels ‘honest’ and digital, to many, does not.  Digital filters can now easily emulate the ‘look’ of any film and that seems to only make things worse. Click on the right filter and ‘your picture will instantly be transformed — grain, drama, dirt and all. It works very — to devotees, alarmingly — well.’

The important question here is why is that ‘alarming’? Appleyard doesn’t go there. If the filter can give your photo exactly the same ‘look’, what’s wrong with that? Haven’t we just found an easier way to accomplish the same thing? Or is it somehow not ‘the same thing’? There is something deeply unsatisfying about the digital mimicry and it’s more than just not having to breathe Dektol. It’s something deeper. The word is ‘authenticity’, as one of Appleyard’s interviewees put it. And suddenly we find ourselves face to face with – and this is something no one ever wants to hear – Walter Benjamin.  Like it or not, Benjamin is at the heart of this argument and there’s no point in even bringing it up if you’re just going to dance around him.

The war is already lost, as I’ve written before. Photography, as we knew it, no longer exists – even if people still shoot on film – because the simple existence of digital has changed our relationship to objective ‘truth’ – the physics of light striking an object, recorded with chemistry. Photography was the act of recording events of light. Jerry Uelsmann aside, that was all it could do. Digital ‘photography’ has no such boundaries and now that we know that we see all photographs in a different way.

My favorite thing in the article is when Appleyard coins (I think) a new phrase, ‘analogue defiance’. Admit it, you’ve been waiting for that. Maybe this phrase is already widely used in certain circles, but I’ve never seen/heard it before. Appleyard’s definition: ‘a rebellious hunger for the pre-digital world’. After the total digital triumph it will be the definition of a disorder.


Diane Williams

We went to the Plymouth Congregational Church in South Minneapolis today to see a (superb) performance of The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan, put on by the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company. Wandering the church in search of a water fountain during intermission I was struck by the art on the walls. It was good and there was a lot of it. Apparently, the church has a very strong commitment to the arts.

I saw a number of things that I liked – and then I saw these. I apologize for the poor quality, I only had my phone:


I can’t find anything about her online but damn, she could paint. I’m going to go back to the church and see what they can tell me.

March 2017 Updates


I’ve been pretty busy lately. I am doing the post production color work on a feature film, Seven Hill City, directed by Brandon Stroud, a film I also gaffed in May, 2016.  On a related note, I also taught a workshop at The Independent Film Project in St. Paul about color correction and grading using DaVinci Resolve. The workshop was at capacity and ran for 6 hours – we even skipped lunch. It covers basic color theory (particularly as it relates to film & video), the why’s and hows of imposing a limited palette and the particular tools available in the software. Lots of fun, great participants – I am looking forward to teaching it again, probably in the fall.

This is my second time teaching it at IFP. I’ve also run this workshop several times at Austin Movie Gear in Austin, TX and for the post production staff at Rooster Teeth. I have already started simmering a new workshop focused entirely on color: how to understand and work with values, hue, saturation, palettes and much more. I am hoping to roll out a full outline by early summer.

I will also be participating in an even call Art-A-Whirl, through the Northeast Minneapolis Art Association.  This year will be a little different than last year – the idea is that it will run over a full weekend and be based in a gallery space (instead of studio tours). Artists will work in 4 hour shifts actually making work in the gallery and discussing process, methods and whatever anyone wants to talk about. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

And on top of all of that I am working on new series of paintings on paper, involving a completely new process sequence (for me) that goes from acrylic underpainting through projected drawings to finishing in oils. It’s a complicated sequence, all considered, but in the end it makes it possible for me to work much faster and more spontaneously and still end up with work that has depth and complexity. Coming soon…